The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized diagnostic testing. As the pandemic eases and related restrictions are lifted, public health officials and scientists are looking to do-it-yourself home tests, such as PCR tests and lateral flow devices, to drive individuals’ decision making.
However, despite rapid expansion and progress in COVID-19 testing over the last year, doubts about the efficacy of some of the at-home tests persist. “We’re in this ridiculous state where people are being invited to test themselves twice a week with a test that’s really unreliable,” said Will Irving, PhD, professor of virology at the University of Nottingham in England. “If you get a negative result it doesn’t mean you haven’t got it, if you get a positive result, it doesn’t mean you’ve got it.”
The U.K. government, which is offering tests free of charge to local authorities and workplaces through the end of June, hopes to establish an effective private market for tests and offer testing as an alternative to self-isolation for those who have had contact with infected individuals, the Financial Times reported.
Experts also hope to apply testing technology to other medical challenges, like influenza strains, new diseases found in wastewater, and antimicrobial resistance.
“The thing that worries me is the massive health emergency that’s looming,” said Axel Heitmueller, PhD, managing director of Imperial College Health Partners. “We are going to have a massive backlog – for cancers like bowel, breast and lung – and we need to apply the same agility to identifying and diagnosing them. Will we be willing to take the same kind of risks [as were taken during the pandemic] to invest in new technologies?”