Background: neuraminidase (NA) inhibitors have recently become available for treatment of influenza. Rapid antigen detection assays at 'point-of-care' may improve the accuracy of clinical diagnosis, but the value of these techniques in assisting with the appropriate use of antivirals remains controversial.
Objective: to compare the diagnostic utilities of two management strategies for influenza, empirical antiviral therapy versus therapy based on a positive rapid test result in pre-epidemic and epidemic periods.
Study design: a threshold decision analytic model was designed to compare these competing strategies and sensitivity analysis performed to examine the impact of diagnostic variables on the expected utility of the decision with a range of prior probabilities of infection between 1 and 50%.
Results: on the basis of the calculated sensitivity (77%) and specificity (95%) of a point-of-care test for influenza, pre-treatment testing was preferred and cost-effective in non-epidemic stage of the influenza cycle. The alternative strategy of empirical treatment produces a higher utility value during epidemics, but may result in overuse of antivirals for low-risk populations. The two strategies had equivalent efficacy when the probability of influenza was 42%.
Conclusions: Patients with flu-like illness, who present outside the influenza outbreak and are considered to be at low risk for influenza-related complications, should be tested to confirm the diagnosis before starting antiviral treatment with a NA inhibitor. The most important variables in the model were the accuracy of the clinical diagnosis and the pre-test probability of influenza. A threshold probability of influenza of 42% would dictate changing from the rapid testing strategy to a 'treat regardless' strategy.