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Rapid COVID-19 testing trial in aged care

An aged care facility in Melbourne is trialling a faster method of COVID-19 testing to see if it provides better protection for their residents by quickly identifying an active coronavirus infection on people visiting the facility.

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While not used throughout Australia, rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 are being trialled at the Abberfield Aged Care facility. [Source: Shutterstock]

This announcement of rapid testing trials was unveiled last Friday just before Victoria became concerned about the new Delta variant of COVID-19 being reintroduced to Melbourne earlier this week.

Abberfield Aged Care, based in the Melbourne suburb Sandringham, has registered with the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) for supply and use of the Atomo Diagnostics' rapid antigen test, which can provide results within ten minutes.

Overseeing the trial of the test is Dr Henry Konopnicki, a General Practitioner who has worked with Abberfield for over 10 years.

He says quick and easy testing that provides results within such a short amount of time can be highly beneficial in an industry like aged care, where the most susceptible to COVID-19 are situated inside - older people.

"The current policy of testing for COVID-19 only if symptoms are present or having been in close contact with an infection does not allow for the capturing of asymptomatic COVID-19 infected people in the population," explains Dr Konopnicki.

"Rapid antigen testing could be used in high-risk settings such as aged care facilities, for mass screening of healthy people with no symptoms, as a supplement to the current random PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing which takes at least 24 hours to provide results and its use overseas in these types of settings is well evidenced.

"With many people accessing aged care everyday - not just care staff, but contractors, suppliers and families -  rapid testing could provide more confidence to residents, operators and families that COVID-19 would be identified and isolated earlier.

"In addition, people vaccinated for COVID-19 can still carry, become ill with and transmit the virus, so the vaccination does not eliminate the risk for aged care residents."

Abberfield Aged Care will be examining the effectiveness of this trial by putting incoming visitors to the test. They will see whether the antigen testing is successful at capturing asymptomatic infections in people.

The trial will then compare the results from the rapid tests with the currently used 24 hour PCR results. Included in the trial is an information storage app, which will keep all the results of the antigen testing in one place.

Dr Konopnicki is hopeful that the trial at Abberfield Aged Care will provide data around the value of rapid antigen tests in aged care facilities. The organisation intends to publish the results for the benefit of other aged care providers.  

According to Atomo Diagnostics, producer of the rapid antigen tests which will be used at Abbeyfield Aged Care, a recent study in the US has shown that antigen tests perform just as well as laboratory testing when used every three days.

Chief Executive Officer of Atomo, John Kelly, says the current COVID-19 testing protocols come with limitations, namely the 24-48 hour waiting period for results.

"Studies around the world show that a significant cohort of people are asymptomatic when infected with COVID-19. This can cause a huge risk of potential infection in high risk settings such as aged care," says Mr Kelly.

"COVID-19 infection concerns have limited family visits to residents in aged care facilities all over Australia, undermining confidence in staff and contractors in entering facilities. This current public health policy is failing those most vulnerable in our society and is out of step with other developed nation’s COVID-19 responses."

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