If we have at-home test kits for COVID, why isn't there one for Flu?
Cases of COVID-19, Influenza, and RSV continue to rise in Central Florida and throughout the county, yet COVID is the only of the three viruses to have a commercial at-home test kit.
After the federal government suspended its at-home COVID test program in September, pharmacies around the country still sell various brands of at-home COVID tests, but of the three viruses driving what experts call a tripledemic there is neither an at-home test kit for the Flu virus or RSV.
So why don't we?
Dr. Jane Gibson, an associate dean at the College of Medicine at the University of Central Florida, says Flu test kits probably haven’t hit store shelves because of the social perspective of the Flu not being a scary virus… despite increasing hospitalizations.
“People may not be as enthusiastic about buying an at-home test kit for something like 'oh, yeah, it's just the Flu.' Well, obviously, it's a serious health concern. But it's a familiar virus," she said.
However, the perception of COVID was different as it was a newer virus and less immunity protection was exhibited by populations at the time.
"I think that the social aspects of COVID-19 being a pandemic, and then moving into an endemic phase, were very different and happened very different from the Flu just because of the whole isolation. The pressure to control the spread of COVID-19 was different," she said. "Obviously, we want to control the spread of the Flu as well, but I think it just hasn't been as foremost on the minds of people as COVID-19 was, and of course, the fear was people going outside of the house or infecting your loved ones."
But it's not just an issue of perception. There's also an economic factor to weigh in as keeping up with mutations could prove to be a financial challenge, Gibson said.
“So with the Flu, it probably comes down to the fact that we have different strains with different changes to the viral genomes present every year, and to make kits that would be all-encompassing. To do that would create challenges,” she said.
Gibson also says that while there is little to no-demand for an at-home Flu test, that could change as more patients want more immediate access to their health status - a mentality produced by the easy access to COVID-19 tests.
Could there one day be an at-home Flu test?
Tides may already be shifting after the Food and Drug Administration came out in May with a consumer test kit capable of detecting COVID, RSV, and Flu. The test was the first direct-to-consumer multi-analysis COVID-19 test authorized by FDA, the agency said in a press release.
While not the same as an at-home test kit, the triple-analysis test requires an individual to collect a nasal swab sample at home, and then turn the sample in to the manufacturer, Labcorp, for analysis and results.
The FDA was not immediately available for comment about the possibility of an at-home test kit.
But Gibson thinks that COVID at-home kits have empowered patients who want answers on their health status. If that demand becomes larger, there could be more than one kind of viral at-home test kit on store shelves one day.
"I think that home test kits really are attractive to patients who want to know the answer immediately so that they can make decisions regarding who they're going to be around, or what they need to do next to feel better," she said.