As Europe enters the fourth wave of COVID-19 and countries start to impose lockdown restrictions, we must not forget that we have the tools to tackle this. European society has undergone a profound transformation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Testing has been placed at the heart of our health systems as one of the key solutions in tackling this crisis.
Following the pandemic’s impact on our economy and wellbeing, health awareness has increased. We are able to quickly recognise COVID-19 symptoms and we know to get tested when needed. In fact, many of us test before visiting family; we test when going to a business meeting and for travelling. We now have a stronger appreciation of the impact that delayed diagnosis can have on our overall health.
As we reflect on European Testing Week (22-29 November), it is clear to me that our efforts to raise awareness must go beyond the detection of chronic diseases and viral infections such as HCV, HBV and HIV. Testing is no longer just a part of health screening and prevention programmes. Testing supports the economy, saves lives and protects the most vulnerable in society.
Testing can be accurate and fast
The EU response to the COVID-19 pandemic put the spotlight on the importance of rapid diagnosis to prevent the spread of disease and enable patient monitoring. Many patients across Europe were offered testing in their community and in non-healthcare settings which enabled them to overcome barriers to accessing rapid testing.
Patients can now have a rapid PCR test in near-patient settings (e.g., pharmacy, clinics, mobile units and airports) with the results within a one hour.[i] The time needed for the test results to come back does not compromise its sensitivity and accuracy when compared with results from traditional labs (which take a couple of days on average). [ii]
The diagnostics industry today is driving reliable and fast-delivery PCR tests to support the European recovery from COVID-19. Our sector aims to provide the best testing solutions to all patients who need them, and is continuously improving and validating new tests.
Early detection saves lives
The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated concerns about other public health threats such as AMR.[iii] During the pandemic, patients admitted to a hospital with suspected COVID-19 were often prescribed antibiotics even though many did not have a bacterial co-infection.[iv]
To stop the spread of hospital-acquired infections, fast and accurate testing must become the standard of care across Europe. This would allow clinicians and infection prevention professionals to quickly identify, isolate, and appropriately treat patients colonised or infected with drug-resistant bacteria.[v]
Governments’ plans for post-COVID-19 recovery, and specifically plans to reduce disease transmission and control outbreaks, must enable access to rapid automated molecular diagnostics in hospitals A&E departments and in the community. Today, patients’ lives are being put at risk while they wait days for test results that inform crucial treatment decisions.
Focus on the most vulnerable
The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. As we enter the winter season, I believe it is of crucial importance to protect the most vulnerable, including our families and children, and to continue testing where possible.
The combination of co-circulating respiratory viruses including COVID-19, influenza and RSV make for a highly unpredictable and dangerous winter, not only for adults but also for children.
In every country, and in Europe as whole, we must be able to identify and prevent outbreaks of disease. We must be in a position to triage and diagnose patients using combined testing solutions to limit the burden on hospitals and ensure proper treatment and care for all.
We have the tools to do this. Let’s use them.
[i] Die Besonderheit von CoVLAB: Die mobile Corona-Teststation vereint Probenentnahme und Labordiagnostik an einem Ort. https://www.covlab.de/die-teststrategie/teststation/
ii] Tenover Fred C. Potential impact of rapid diagnostic tests on improving antimicrobial use. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Dec;1213:70-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05827.x. Epub 2010 Nov 4.
[iii] Langford B, et al. Bacterial co-infection and secondary infection in patients with COVID-19: a living rapid review and meta-analysis. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2020 Dec;26(12):1622-1629.
[iv] Hsu, J. How covid-19 is accelerating the threat of antimicrobial resistance. BMJ. 2020 May;369:m1983.
[v] Corless C, et al. Impact of different carbapenemase-producing Enterobacterales screening strategies in a hospital setting. IPIP. 2020 May;2(3):100011