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Tech developed in Utah a useful tool during peak flu season

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SALT LAKE CITY -- We are at the peak of one of the most severe flu seasons we've had in Utah for some time, and technology developed at the University of Utah is proving to be a valuable tool in dealing with the epidemic.

Some symptoms of the common cold are the same symptoms seen in someone with the flu, but the treatments for both conditions differ. BioFire Diagnostics' FilmArray aims to eliminate the guesswork in determining which of the two conditions a patient has.

Wade Stevenson, vice-president of sales and marketing for Biofire Diagnostics, said the FilmArray "allows health care workers to identify exactly what it is that is making you sick."

The FilmArray is a test for all of the most common upper respiratory tract infections, and it takes about an hour to get the results. Getting results quickly is important, as flu medications should be started within 48 hours of the appearance of flu symptoms.

Stevenson said fast results can also prevent overuse or unnecessary use of antibiotics.

“A lot of times patients will demand antibiotics when really they just have a virus, right, and so, without a definitive identification of what it is that is making them sick, a lot of health care providers will write a prescription for an antibiotic when in fact the patient just has a viral infection,” he said.

In 2011, before the technology was available, a local hospital quarantined four newborns who had the flu. It turned out one had a dual infection that then spread a corona virus to the other three. One of the children passed away.

Officials said the FilmArray test could have alerted physicians to the need to quarantine the baby that had both viruses by itself.

In peak flu season , fast results can get patients who need the beds in hospitals, while determining which others can be cared for at home. Between eight and 10 hospitals in Utah have the FilmArray technology available.

The tests are a little more expensive, but experts said they can save time, money and even lives.

The FilmArray has three panels. In addition to the respiratory panel there is a gastrointestinal panel and a blood culture identification panel.  According to their website, “Together, these panels test for more than a hundred pathogens.”