California test detects COVID-19 and flu at same time

UC Davis Health in Sacramento is the first health system in the country to roll

UC Davis Health in Sacramento is the first health system in the country to roll out a test that can detect both COVID-19 and two viruses that cause the seasonal flu, according to the university.

The new test uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, similar to the test used to diagnose COVID-19. It looks for small amounts of genetic information, or RNA, of the particular viruses and has an accuracy rate close to 100%, a news release said.

What’s more, individuals can get their test results in 20 minutes.

“They are able to pick up very small amounts of viral RNA very early in an infection, so there is a low chance for false negatives, including among pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases,” Nam Tran, professor of laboratory medicine and UC Davis Health site principal investigator for the clinical validation of the new test, said in the release. “When patients need results fast, getting accurate results in 20 minutes is a big deal. Some facilities take two to three days for COVID-19 results.”

UC Davis Health started using the test about a week ago, according to an email sent to McClatchy News.

In addition to the test’s speed and accuracy, Tran said it can also be “administered right away by doctors or nurses at a patient’s bedside” — an important quality as COVID-19 cases soar across the country and as flu season looms.

So far, the test has been restricted to emergency departments and clinics where “doctors and other health care providers need to make fast treatment decisions,” Tran said. That’s because UC Davis Health, along with other institutions, is dealing with a limited supply of reagents, the chemicals used in the tests.

As more supplies come in, testing will expand, the researchers said.

The test, made by Switzerland-based company Roche Diagnostics, received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 14. The FDA has issued a handful of EUAs for similar tests since about July, McClatchy News previously reported.

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Katie Camero is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter based in Miami focusing on science. She’s an alumna of Boston University and has reported for the Wall Street Journal, Science, and The Boston Globe.

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