Company looking to expand rapid flu detector test to pharmacies nationwide

Abbott Laboratories wants to put rapid flu-testing machines in pharmacies, and the risk of infection is one of the reasons why.

BOSTON — As flu season continues to pick up, so do the concerns over diagnosing it.

Getting tested for the flu usually means you have to share the same space with other, potentially sick people - and that’s how the disease can spread more easily.

Rapid flu-testing machines have become staples in emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and even doctor’s offices. But, if you’re not sure you have the flu, you shouldn’t have to be exposed to the viral disease just to be sure.

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With that in mind, Abbott Laboratories wants to put these devices in pharmacies, where the risk of infection is much lower.

“One of the worst things we can do sometimes is bring a highly infectious disease to the people that are most vulnerable,” said Dr. Norman Moore, of Abbott Laboratories. “If you’re in a hospital, you’ve got elderly people, you’ve got people on chemotherapy, you’ve got pregnant women and we really don’t want to expose them to something highly infectious.”

Dr. Paul Sax, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women’s believes testing for the flu at pharmacies can work and can even be beneficial if it keeps patients who don’t need medical attention out of already overcrowded emergency departments.

However, Dr. Sax says that, many times, a flu test isn’t necessary to make an accurate diagnosis of the flu.

“During flu season, when flu is widespread, if the person has the symptoms of flu then often they don’t need a test,” said Dr. Sax.

In less than 15 minutes, the flu-testing machine can tell whether someone has influenza or not. While some pharmacies with clinics inside are already able to test for the flu, Dr. Sax believes that if pharmacy flu-testing grows that could ease the burden on emergency departments.

“A lot of the pharmacies understand you’ve got to be fast and you’ve got to be convenient,” said Dr. Moore.

That being said, Dr. Sax says he also worries about the negative results on patients who are sick with something and don’t seek further medical help - especially if they have underlying health problems, such as heart disease.

“Those are the contexts where I think it really makes sense to have a doctor or another clinician evaluate the person and not have it only be done in the pharmacy,” said Dr. Sax.