Is it COVID-19 or something else?

Fever, cough, shortness of breath, congestion, body aches, fatigue... sound familiar? These are common symptoms associated with a respiratory infection, but how do you know if that infection is COVID-19, the flu or something else? Respiratory infections are especially concerning for residents of a senior care community. When your responsibility is safeguarding the health of seniors, how can you best identify and mitigate the spread of a respiratory infection?

Seniors are an at-risk population

The risk of respiratory infections spreading throughout senior care facilities is high. Living in close proximity to others elevates the risk for transmission, particularly for highly infectious viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.¹ Elderly residents are especially susceptible due to a weakened immune system. Each year, many seniors are hospitalized with respiratory infections caused by influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).²

In the event of a respiratory outbreak in a senior care facility, it is important to rapidly identify the exact cause of infection for proper treatment and control. Illness caused by bacteria may require treatment with antibiotics, but a viral infection will only respond to antiviral medications. Additionally, specific pathogens, like SARS-CoV-2, may require a facility to implement infection control measures to mitigate transmission.

Syndromic respiratory panels provide answers

Syndromic respiratory panels are tests that can screen for multiple viruses or bacteria at once. These tests detect the presence or absence of each specific virus or bacteria included in the panel, as well as possible co-infections. With results often available in less than two days, a doctor can quickly prescribe treatment.

Other commercial tests, like rapid antigen tests, are convenient but fall short in comparison to the information provided by syndromic testing. Most antigen tests are designed for a single virus, so to rule in or rule-out the cause of an infection, serial testing may be needed. Additionally, antigen tests return more false negatives than high-sensitivity PCR-based tests.³ Syndromic testing offers the ability to detect multiple types of infections, including co-infections, that rapid antigen kits may miss. 

Regular testing is key to protecting seniors

Regular respiratory infection screening programs help senior care facilities manage the health of their residents. Syndromic panels have the sensitivity to detect and specifically identify infections, like SARS-CoV-2, influenza and RSV, prior to residents showing symptoms.⁴ This is important because by the time symptoms appear, the pathogen may have already spread.  

When an infection is found, facilities can determine whether or not containment measures are warranted. The use of containment procedures can be stressful to residents and increase facility costs. The rapid and accurate assessment of an infection can better inform management decisions. Therefore, regular screening for respiratory pathogens can potentially reduce transmission, prevent an outbreak, decrease costs, and give your residents and staff peace of mind.

Implementing a respiratory testing program

The Pandemic Response Lab (PRL) offers respiratory syndromic panel testing services for senior care facilities. With a track record of returning 99% of results within 24 hours, PRL’s Concise Respiratory Panel includes SARS-CoV-2, influenza and RSV, with a future expanded panel for other common viral and bacterial respiratory pathogens in development. Contact PRL to learn how you can make syndromic respiratory panel testing part of your facility wellness program. 

1. Interim infection prevention and control recommendations to prevent SARS-COV-2 spread in nursing homes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published September 10, 2021. Accessed 18 March 2022.

2. Bosco, E. et. al. Estimated cardiorespiratory hospitalizations attributable to influenza and respiratory syncytial virus among long-term care facility residents. JAMA Netw Open. 2021; 4(6): e2111806. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.11806.

3. Rapid testing.,Cochrane%20Library%2C%20March%202021). Published April 11, 2022. Accessed June 22, 2022.

4. Rapid testing.,Cochrane%20Library%2C%20March%202021). Published April 11, 2022. Accessed June 22, 2022.





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How to Protect an At-Risk Group: Respiratory Testing for Seniors

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