Interior Health drops COVID rapid antigen testing

IH drops COVID rapid tests

Interior Health has dropped use of rapid antigen tests for COVID 19.

A leaked internal memo dated Jan. 8 labelled 'important lab update' states that use of the tests "must stop immediately" at all Interior Health affiliated sites.

Existing tests are to be discarded.

The memo says the rapid antigen tests are "not reliable for diagnosis of COVID 19."

The BC Centre for Disease Control stated that CDC oversight of the tests was withdrawn as of Nov. 21, the memo continues.

"As such, COVID 19 RAT testing can no longer be used to direct clinical care or infection prevention control measures, and must be discontinued immediately in Interior Health affiliated emergency rooms, hospitals, long-term care facilities, or outpatients settings."

The memo says nasopharyngeal swabs are to be used on symptomatic patients, which will be tested by IH microbiology labs.

However, IH says it would like to "clarify" the content of the memo since it has begun circulating on social media.

"Rapid antigen tests (RAT) detect infections in more than 70-80 per cent of patients with COVID 19 and are a great tool within the community to help inform members of the public if they could be infected with COVID 19 to help them prevent spread of the virus to others," medical director of microbiology and genomics Amanda Wilmer said in a statement to Castanet.

"However, RAT is unable to test for other common respiratory viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, which are also circulating, so regardless of RAT results, it's important to use respiratory hygiene measures and stay home until you feel well enough to participate in regular day-to-day activities.

"In health-care settings, critical treatment and infection control decisions are made based on results, and since more accurate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing which can also detect Influenza and RSV is readily available, RAT is not the preferred test."

Wilmer says RAT "still has a role" in diagnosing COVID in the public and is a "valuable tool if positive – but does not rule out respiratory viral illness if negative, especially since it doesn't test for other respiratory viruses like Influenza or RSV.

"That is why PCR testing is required in the more crucial health-care setting.

"Moving forward, RAT will no longer be used for clinical decision making in our health-care facilities which is a change supported across the province to ensure all clinical care and infection prevention and control decisions are based on the most accurate information to maintain patient safety."

Wilmer says it is still important during the respiratory viral season for the public to "protect themselves and those around them by getting vaccinated for influenza and COVID 19 if eligible, staying home while symptomatic with respiratory infections, and seeking medical care if experiencing severe symptoms."

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