Testing algorithm streamlines assessment for COVID-19

As flu season approaches, differentiating COVID-19 from other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), becomes a more pressing challenge.

In a recent "Answers From the Lab" podcast, Aaron Tande, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and associate chair for outpatient practice in Mayo Clinic's Division of Infectious Diseases, explains the algorithm Mayo has developed to make sure patients receive the right test at the right time, so they can get the care they need as quickly as possible.

"It's very difficult in most cases to distinguish clinically is this COVID, or could this be influenza or RSV, just based on symptoms," Dr. Tande says. "So our guiding principle has been to design a testing approach that can help health care systems more proactively and accurately identify patients not only with COVID, but also influenza or RSV, so we can care for them in the best way possible."

Once the algorithm has been used to determine which tests are appropriate, a number of test options are available. For example, in addition to a standalone test for SARS-CoV-2, Mayo Clinic Laboratories offers an option that combines SARS-CoV-2 testing with tests for influenza A and influenza B.

"COVID is certainly on everybody's mind. But if we can identify alternative pathogens that explain an illness, it would give that person comfort that it's not COVID," Dr. Tande says. "It would also help those people in whom treatment may be warranted either for influenza or RSV. For example, with influenza, treatment is most effective upfront. So a timely identification, rather than a sequential identification — testing for both, rather than testing for COVID, and then if that's negative for influenza — is more appropriate."

In the recent article COVID-19 and influenza testing algorithm arms Mayo Clinic for the upcoming flu season, Dr. Tande also explains how Mayo's testing algorithm, along with a multiplex assay available through Mayo Clinic Laboratories, can benefit patients who have medical conditions that make respiratory illness a serious health threat.

"We wanted the algorithm to include people who are at high risk of complications from influenza, who will be especially considered for empiric antiviral treatment, such as our transplant patients, leukemia lymphoma patients, and young children with certain at-risk conditions," he says.

The article goes on to discuss how the testing algorithm will help health care organizations allocate and use resources more effectively during the flu season when demand for testing and treatment is likely to be high. Read the full article here

"Answers From the Lab" is a Mayo Clinic podcast that explores knowledge and advances in laboratory science. Recent episodes have featured a wide range of topics related to COVID-19, including testing, prevention, immunity and screening. You can listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Tracy Will

Tracy Will

Tracy Will is a Senior Communications Specialist at Mayo Clinic who focuses on copy editing, feature writing and project management.