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Queensland to roll out simultaneous flu and Covid testing in line with NSW hospitals | Health

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Sick people will soon be tested for Covid and the flu simultaneously at state-run fever clinics and hospitals across Queensland, as authorities scramble to get a hold on rising cases.

Simultaneous testing for Covid, influenza and other respiratory illnesses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is also now in place in hospitals across New South Wales.

Queensland Health confirmed its plan to roll out simultaneous testing to the Guardian on Wednesday, two days after it announced flu vaccines would be free for the next month in a move NSW and Victoria flagged they would follow.

Private pathology providers in every state and territory are also understood to be testing for viruses other than Covid, including influenza, when taking samples. But this was not available at every facility, and depended on the reason for someone attending, their symptoms and the government rebates available.

The Guardian can also reveal the federal Department of Health has discussed potential changes to the Medicare rebate system to allow for simultaneous testing, as Covid and influenza tests currently attract separate rebates.

“The department has had discussions with the pathology sector in relation to future changes to testing that would support a range of respiratory targets being tested for at the same time as Covid-19,” the department said in a statement.

“Any changes to MBS (Medicare Benefits Schedule) rebates for respiratory tests are a matter for the incoming government.”

The federal government provides financial assistance to the states and territories for the additional costs incurred in their Covid responses, including 50% of testing costs.

At the end of March, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) released recommendations for all state, territory and private testing sites to “support the targeted testing of multiple respiratory pathogens simultaneously”.

“The prevalence of influenza in the community will inform decisions on the appropriate timeframe for this to commence,” the AHPPC said in its winter preparedness plan.

Queensland Health said it supported the AHPPC plan and was working to introduce simultaneous testing as soon as possible.

“Queensland Health fully supports the AHPPC statement on winter season preparedness which includes expanded and targeted testing for COVID-19 and influenza over winter,” a spokesperson said.

“Queensland Health is working toward routine combined testing for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses such as influenza.”

In NSW, simultaneous testing has been included since the start of the flu season, which arrived early this year amid persistently high Covid cases and staff furloughing due to illness.

Dr Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, supported the move.

“Given that we’re still in a global pandemic, we’ve got Covid at near-record numbers, and we’ve got capacity issues in the hospital and health system more broadly, it may make good public health sense to start understanding what’s going on and where it’s going on,” she said.

Price said most people would recover from flu with rest at home but if they were seriously unwell and not getting better they should contact their GP or a respiratory clinic for further assistance.

“We see the whole person so we’re not just seeing influenza, we’re seeing influenza in a diabetic or we’re seeing influenza in someone who’s highly anxious,” she said.

“If you get symptoms, stay home. If you’re concerned about it escalating, then seek perhaps a telehealth appointment from your GP to understand whether or not you need to come in and be seen.”

South Australia is also looking at implementing simultaneous testing and officials are working through affordability and accessibility issues, and the split in testing between public and private health facilities.

The state’s chief public health officer, Prof Nicola Spurrier, said SA Health was “still discussing all of those issues”.

“There are ways of doing the flu and Covid together but we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the balance right in our state,” she said on Monday.

Announcing plans for free flu vaccinations, the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said this year’s flu season could be the worst in years.

Over the week ending last Sunday, 1,125 people presented to NSW hospitals with flu-like illnesses, while cases of the virus in Queensland jumped 132% in the space of a week.


Sick people will soon be tested for Covid and the flu simultaneously at state-run fever clinics and hospitals across Queensland, as authorities scramble to get a hold on rising cases.

Simultaneous testing for Covid, influenza and other respiratory illnesses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is also now in place in hospitals across New South Wales.

Queensland Health confirmed its plan to roll out simultaneous testing to the Guardian on Wednesday, two days after it announced flu vaccines would be free for the next month in a move NSW and Victoria flagged they would follow.

Private pathology providers in every state and territory are also understood to be testing for viruses other than Covid, including influenza, when taking samples. But this was not available at every facility, and depended on the reason for someone attending, their symptoms and the government rebates available.

The Guardian can also reveal the federal Department of Health has discussed potential changes to the Medicare rebate system to allow for simultaneous testing, as Covid and influenza tests currently attract separate rebates.

“The department has had discussions with the pathology sector in relation to future changes to testing that would support a range of respiratory targets being tested for at the same time as Covid-19,” the department said in a statement.

“Any changes to MBS (Medicare Benefits Schedule) rebates for respiratory tests are a matter for the incoming government.”

The federal government provides financial assistance to the states and territories for the additional costs incurred in their Covid responses, including 50% of testing costs.

At the end of March, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) released recommendations for all state, territory and private testing sites to “support the targeted testing of multiple respiratory pathogens simultaneously”.

“The prevalence of influenza in the community will inform decisions on the appropriate timeframe for this to commence,” the AHPPC said in its winter preparedness plan.

Queensland Health said it supported the AHPPC plan and was working to introduce simultaneous testing as soon as possible.

“Queensland Health fully supports the AHPPC statement on winter season preparedness which includes expanded and targeted testing for COVID-19 and influenza over winter,” a spokesperson said.

“Queensland Health is working toward routine combined testing for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses such as influenza.”

In NSW, simultaneous testing has been included since the start of the flu season, which arrived early this year amid persistently high Covid cases and staff furloughing due to illness.

Dr Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, supported the move.

“Given that we’re still in a global pandemic, we’ve got Covid at near-record numbers, and we’ve got capacity issues in the hospital and health system more broadly, it may make good public health sense to start understanding what’s going on and where it’s going on,” she said.

Price said most people would recover from flu with rest at home but if they were seriously unwell and not getting better they should contact their GP or a respiratory clinic for further assistance.

“We see the whole person so we’re not just seeing influenza, we’re seeing influenza in a diabetic or we’re seeing influenza in someone who’s highly anxious,” she said.

“If you get symptoms, stay home. If you’re concerned about it escalating, then seek perhaps a telehealth appointment from your GP to understand whether or not you need to come in and be seen.”

South Australia is also looking at implementing simultaneous testing and officials are working through affordability and accessibility issues, and the split in testing between public and private health facilities.

The state’s chief public health officer, Prof Nicola Spurrier, said SA Health was “still discussing all of those issues”.

“There are ways of doing the flu and Covid together but we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the balance right in our state,” she said on Monday.

Announcing plans for free flu vaccinations, the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said this year’s flu season could be the worst in years.

Over the week ending last Sunday, 1,125 people presented to NSW hospitals with flu-like illnesses, while cases of the virus in Queensland jumped 132% in the space of a week.

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