Flu patients to be tested for coronavirus

By Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent
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Flu patients to be tested for coronavirus

Flu patients are to be assessed for coronavirus in a bid to spot whether it is spreading, it has emerged.

Samples from patients with severe respiratory infections – such as those with flu – in some hospitals in England will also be assessed for the virus.

So far diagnostic tests have only been conducted on patients who are believed to be infected, but health officials plan to roll out the assessment more widely.

It is not believed that coronavirus is circulating in England, but by rolling out the tests, experts hope to spot any spread and put preventative measures in place.

Public Health England (PHE) has put the new system in place in eight NHS hospitals across the country at intensive care units and severe respiratory failure centres.

Around 100 primary care sites, such as GP surgeries, will also participate in the new scheme so milder cases can also be detected.

“We have taken a belt-and-braces approach throughout this outbreak,” said PHE medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle.

“This new system is another important way we can help limit the impact of Covid-19 in the UK as we continue to ensure we have the best possible intelligence to protect the public’s health.

(PA Graphics)

“There is no change in risk for the public but taking this preparatory step now will enable us to better detect and contain the spread of the virus.

“The UK’s infection control procedures are world-leading, and the system we are announcing today further strengthens our response.”

Nathalie MacDermott, academic clinical lecturer in paediatric infectious diseases at King’s College London, said: “Within certain regions anyone who might be tested for influenza – such as elderly patients in hospital with a respiratory problem, children who have breathing difficulty and have a hospital admission – those are the types of people who are tested for influenza or respiratory viruses when they are admitted to hospital.

“My understanding is that might be added on to that to get an idea of whether there are any cases within the UK that haven’t been picked up on.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has banned the “parallel export” of two drugs which are being tested as potential treatments for Covid-19.

Parallel exporting occurs when companies buy medicines meant for UK patients and sell them on for a higher price in another country.

DHSC said the parallel export for an HIV drug and an anti-malaria medication, both of which are being tested as possible treatments for Covid-19, have been prohibited.

A spokesman said: “We have banned the parallel export of a small number of medicines, including ritonavir/lopinavir and chloroquine, to help ensure the uninterrupted supply of these medicines for existing NHS patients.

“Medicines in the UK that may be needed by our patients should not be diverted to other countries for financial gain and this precautionary measure will ensure UK patients are protected.”