Flu and Covid: New tests in France can detect both viruses at once

It comes as the country is battling a triple epidemic of Covid, flu and bronchiolitis

A close-up photo of two antigen tests against a blue background
The double test allows testing for Covid and flu at the same time
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New testing kits that can detect both Covid and flu at the same time are now available for some in France. Both viruses are currently at epidemic levels in France.

Jean-Paul Hamon, honorary president of the Fédération des médecins de France, told the Journal du Dimanche: “It’s real progress. It allows us to prescribe fewer antibiotics. It’s a good diagnostic tool.”

The main manufacturer of these dual tests is Strasbourg-based company Toda Pharma.

The company developed the test, which works on the same principle as Covid antigen tests. It returns results within 15 minutes, with a reliability level of 96-99%.

It can tell patients if they have Covid, flu, neither or both. It is two antigen tests in one.

Toda Pharma communications manager Sébastien Spiss told France3: “A long cotton bud is all you need to detect both viruses. It’s important because flu has hit hard and early this year.”

However, the tests are still rare and difficult to get hold of. They are currently only for healthcare professionals’ use and are not available for the public to buy. The company is also under considerable strain due to increased orders, Mr Spiss said.

Yet, some pharmacies may be able to offer them. Pierre Fritz, who owns a pharmacy in Strasbourg, said: “In one week, I’ve done about 50. It helps to save time because I can make sure the patient is getting the right care depending on their symptoms.

“If [a normal] Covid test is negative but the patient is ill, I’m sometimes worried that the test is false but with the combined test, I can see that it’s actually a case of flu.”

Another test, which will enable testing of Covid, flu, and VRS, the virus that causes bronchiolitis, is also currently at trial stage in France.

Triple epidemic

It comes as France has been struck by the triple epidemic of Covid, flu, and bronchiolitis this winter. The health ministry has called the situation “unprecedented” and said it was putting severe pressure on hospitals and healthcare staff.

Currently, more than 50,000 new cases of Covid are being reported each day in France. Yet, the real number may be far higher as testing has dropped considerably. This year, only 210,000 official tests were recorded on December 23, 2022, versus almost one million on the same date in 2021.

Brigitte Autran, president of the health risk committee le Comité de veille et d'anticipation des risques sanitaires (Covars) said late last week (December 29) that the country had “passed the peak of Covid” but that “we are not yet at the peak of flu”.

The flu outbreak has been due to a “particularly severe” strain of the virus this year, named H3N2, she said.

She called on people in France to ensure their vaccinations for Covid were up to date and to get vaccinated against flu.

She told FranceInfo: “I want to remind everyone that the anti-flu vaccine is 85-90% effective against this severe form of flu. It is never too late to get vaccinated.

“Today, the number of flu cases has caught up with the number of Covid cases but Covid is decreasing. We are not yet at the peak of flu, so there will be more flu in the coming days.”

China and Covid tests for travel to France

Covid travel tests are also back on the agenda for some after France announced that it will require people aged 11 or over arriving in the country from China to show a negative result from a test taken in the 48 hours before departure for France from January 5.

China has seen an explosion in Covid cases again in recent weeks.

Italy and Spain have also imposed similar rules on arrivals from the country.

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