Scientists have developed a test which can diagnose flu in one hour, in a move which could speed up access to the right treatment and tackle antibiotic resistance.
The instant swab tests, invented at University Hospital Southampton Foundation trust, mean specific viruses can be isolated, and given the right treatment, within 60 minutes.
Currently such processses take almost a week, meaning thousands of patients are needlessly given antibiotics, fuelling spiralling drug resistance.
It also means the most vulnerable patients, who do have flu, and should have been given antiviral drugs, are being left without them.
Inventor Dr Tristan Clark, a consultant in infectious diseases, said: “My vision is that anyone who comes into hospital with an acute respiratory condition will receive this point-of-care test as soon as they come through the hospital door.”
“It tells us immediately what virus the person has so, for example, if they have flu they can be isolated in a side room and given antiviral drugs without delay.”
He said the on-the-spot test could play a “major role” in the war on antibiotic resistance. “Antibiotics are only effective at treating bacterial infections and not infections caused by a virus like the cold or flu viruses, yet they are often given antibiotics 'just in case', when the cause of the infection is not immediately apparent,” he said.
The study, developed with the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, was tested in the winters of 2015 and 2016, on 720 patients with acute respiratory illness.
Half the patients had the point-of-care test, in which case a swab was analysed on the device and the results given to their treating doctor, while the other half received standard care.
The results, published online by the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine, showed patients who had the point-of-care test got the right treatment for their lung condition faster.
In addition, patients who tested positive for flu in the point-of-care testing group were appropriately isolated in a side room and given antiviral medication more often and sooner than those in the standard care group.
In 2015, trials of the test in Southampton alerted health officials to the ineffectiveness of that winter’s flu vaccine, after a large proportion of patients attending hospital with respiratory illnesses were found to be suffering from a strain of flu not covered by the jab.