Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s death sparks ‘personal victory’ for flu-fighting researchers

Written by By Paul R. O’Brien, for CNN

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Research in infectious diseases that date back as far as 1917 may have just come to an end, following news on Friday that Canadian medical experts will be recommending the use of a new COVID-19 testing kit for early diagnosis of the flu.

The manufacturer, Cochrane Pharmaceutical Sciences, Inc., announced that it would be investigating a new use for the device after the Ontario Ministry of Health reported receiving an application for approval of the COVID-19 Swab-on-Dot rapid diagnostic test

The testing kit, which is currently available in South Africa, is currently used by charities and community organizations to measure levels of the immunoglobulin C protein known as IgG and the protein interferon-gamma (IFG), which are both strongly correlated with severity of the flu and other respiratory diseases.

In 2018, Dr. Marc Tremblay, a flu expert from McGill University, published an editorial in the journal PLOS Medicine warning that tests known as Standard bacterial Immunoglobulin (SIg) and Standard Hybrid (PHIg) were of “limited value” in the early detection of influenza.

Dr. Tremblay said that those tests should be replaced with newer technology that can analyze samples without the need for a technician’s manual input and could be performed with a swab.

“It’s something we have been pursuing for a while and with the announcement that they have made today, it’s a great announcement,” Tremblay told CNN.

Cochrane says that the COVID-19 Swab-on-Dot test is more accurate than SIg and CIg, using “The Cochrane Clinical Indicators for Influenza Quotients (CCIIP) — a standard reference tool for improved flu diagnostic accuracy.”

According to a statement from an official with the Ministry of Health in Ontario, a committee will be meeting on Monday to discuss whether the COVID-19 Swab-on-Dot test is “commercially and approvable” enough to be recommended for implementation.

Coordinated by Mario Buijsman, the deputy director of infectious diseases at McMaster University’s School of Medicine in Hamilton, the committee will discuss a number of factors including the research and impact of the test on people.

According to the ministry, the committee will make a recommendation to Health Minister Christine Elliott, who will make the final decision on whether or not to recommend approval for the COVID-19 Swab-on-Dot.

Should approval be granted, the ministry says, manufacturers will begin to modify the product by July of 2020.

As for the current CCCIIP available for influenza tests, the ministry says, “it is scheduled to be phased out over the next few years and the current ITN (immunoglobulin-guanine reductase) lab test in need of replacements. A completely new ITN test has been successfully trialed at McMaster, Health Sciences Centre and other health care centers.”

The new version of the CCCIIP test is intended to be used with COVID-19 Swab-on-Dot because it was developed with the World Health Organization (WHO), and has been validated by national health authorities and countries, according to Cochrane Pharmaceutical Sciences.

A WHO spokesperson said in an email that the agency would be supporting the Ministry of Health “in the selection of a new test option for influenza in Ontarians, and looking for a validated alternative.”

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