Combined Covid and flu self-test kits do not 'prove the two diseases are the same'

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Photos showing a combined Covid-19 and influenza self-test kit have been repeatedly shared in social media posts that falsely claim the two diseases are the same. Scientists agree that Covid-19 and the flu are caused by different viruses. The kits featured in the posts have been designed to recognise Covid-19 and influenza viral particles, an infectious diseases professor told AFP.

A photo showing boxes of a combined test kit for Covid-19 and influenza was shared with the false claim on Twitter on November 27.

The tweet reads: "covid = flu and flu = covid. even the test kits admit this now."

The boxes show the logo of Fanttest, one of two combined Covid-19 and influenza self-test kits approved by Australia's drugs regulator Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The kits were approved in September following a winter surge of Covid-19 and flu cases.

Reduced mobility from two years of pandemic restrictions led to limited immunity to the common winter virus.

The TGA said the test kits would help users distinguish between Covid-19 and the flu, diseases that can have similar symptoms but different treatments.

Screenshot of the false post taken December 9, 2022

Photos of Fanttest-brand test kits were shared with a similar claim on Facebook here and here, and on Twitter here and here.

However, scientists agree that Covid-19 and the flu are caused by different viruses.

Throughout the pandemic, AFP has repeatedly debunked similar claims they are the same disease here, here and here.

"The influenza virus was discovered through the use of microscopy nearly 100 years ago and we have dealt with at least three influenza pandemics since that time," Professor Robert Booy, an infectious diseases paediatrician at the University of Sydney, told AFP on December 9.

The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 "is a different virus that looks completely different under the microscope", he said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), while the viruses that cause Covid-19 and the flu share similar symptoms and could be fatal, their treatments are different.

"Treatment options in use for Covid-19 at medical facilities include oxygen, corticosteroids, and IL6 receptor blockers for severely ill patients," the global health agency said.

"Treatment for people with severe respiratory illness includes advanced respiratory support such as the use of ventilators."

Antiviral drugs reduced severe complications and death in the case of influenza infections, particularly for high-risk groups, the WHO said.

There are also different vaccines for Covid-19 and the flu, according to the health agency, adding jabs are recommended each year for the latter.

Self-test kits

Combined Covid-19 and influenza test kits do not prove the two diseases are the same, Professor Booy told AFP.

"They work by using an element called an antigen of each virus, which is distinctly different," he said.

"A coloured line emerges if the antibody in the test recognises a very specific antigen from one of the two viruses."

Instructions on using the Fanttest self-test kit posted on the TGA's website here indicate there are two separate specimen wells for testing for Covid-19 and influenza -- and two different sections for the results.

A screenshot of the Fanttest test kit instructions.

The same instructions have been uploaded to YouTube here by Sonictec, the company which distributes the Fanttest self-test kits in Australia.