University of Southampton researchers are developing a point-of-care testing strategy for influenza that can be carried out in hospital emergency departments and acute medical units.

It involves processing swabs immediately on a portable device combined with a rapid molecular test and, as samples do not need to be sent to the laboratory, results can be delivered within an hour as opposed to a number of days.

The system was trialled in a study at UHS during the winters of 2015 and 2016 which involved 720 patients with acute respiratory illness, including pneumonia and exacerbations of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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.

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.

“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,” explained Dr Tristan Clark, an associate professor in infectious diseases at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. “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.”