Faced with the progression of the epidemic, Austria has worked hard.
The country has embarked on a massive screening campaign to make its European neighbors turn pale.
Over a week, the authorities carry out an average of 24 tests per day per 1,000 inhabitants ... nearly five times more than in France, according to a count from the Our world in data site.
Above all, the momentum should accelerate further in the coming weeks.
Because since March 1, Austria has provided its inhabitants with free kits allowing them to be tested themselves.
A strategy already adopted in several European countries but which is not necessary in France.
What does a self-test look like?
The overwhelming majority of this is an antigen test with a nasal swab, but done yourself.
The method developed abroad remains simple: after taking a sample from each nostril, the swab must be dipped in a chemical reagent.
Then this reagent should be placed on a coverslip.
The result, obtained in less than 24 hours, can then be read in different ways.
“Either the result is displayed directly on the coverslip, as in a pregnancy test.
Either we take a picture of the slide and send it to an application downloaded on his mobile to find out the result, ”explains the Parisian Martin Blachier, epidemiologist doctor.
“The advantage of going through an application is that the data is sent directly to a national database.
In the event of a positive test, any isolation fraud therefore remains limited, ”adds the specialist.
The advantages of such a device are already multiple.
Quick and not very restrictive, the method would make it possible to develop massive screening of the population.
"One can easily imagine that many people who, today, do not have the courage to queue in front of laboratories or pharmacies, could be tested from their living room", estimates Vincent Maréchal, professor of virology at the Sorbonne.
Identifying contagious people as quickly as possible would then make it easier to stop the epidemic and slow down the curves, provided of course that the positive person isolates himself.
These rapid results would therefore represent a significant advantage.
As a reminder, only six out of ten people infected with Covid-19 could be detected in France between mid-October and the end of November, according to a study by Drees, the statistical service of social ministries.
Another advantage of self-tests is their relatively low cost.
The price of a PCR test is now € 43.20, according to Health Insurance.
A "price ten times higher than that of the self-test which is evaluated between 2.5 and 4 euros", adds Martin Blachier.
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If they present many advantages on paper, the self-tests still leave some doctors skeptical.
First of all, the very quality of the sample cannot be guaranteed without the assistance of a caregiver.
Handling a swab cannot be improvised.
“If you don't need a diploma to perform a nasal swab, this strategy requires education.
This involves an information campaign, tutorials on how to properly practice your sample, etc. ”, insists the epidemiologist.
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Finally, some scientists are still debating the sensitivity of these tests, deemed to be less effective than PCR tests.
"The concern is to see an increase in false negatives, in the event that people are asymptomatic and do not have a sufficiently strong viral load to be detected", remarks Vincent Maréchal.
Where is France at?
If France has paved the way for massive screening, with the extension of saliva tests, it seems more cautious about the idea of developing self-tests.
In May 2020, the Haute Autorité de santé had already declared itself against the use of serological tests that patients could carry out themselves from a drop of blood taken from the fingertip.
Even more recently, the National Medicines Safety Agency (ANSM) banned the sale of urine tests to detect the virus, deeming it "without any proof of effectiveness".
For now, no quick and accessible home testing project seems to be in the pipeline.
A finding which could be explained in particular by the weight of pharmaceutical laboratories in France, judge Martin Blachier.
“We have to tell ourselves that if tomorrow, the State develops self-tests, it is the end of the PCR.
Who would have the patience to go to a lab and wait 48 hours when you can have the result in a few hours at home?
“Asks the epidemiologist.
And the other countries?
Some of our neighbors have already taken the plunge.
This is the case for Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia and even more recently Austria.
For its part, the British government is also sending test kits so that teachers can test themselves several times a week.
Likewise, the United States last November authorized the use of a do-it-yourself nasal test, which provides the result in less than 30 minutes.
But if these devices developed abroad have certain advantages, they cannot be sufficient on their own, believes Vincent Maréchal, for whom "it would be useful to have a negative result obtained at home confirmed by a PCR test" . Still, "any screening method is good to take", slips the virologist. “Because it is this cocktail of tests that will ultimately allow us to gain time and efficiency”.