Advice contained in HIQA report published on Friday
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has advised the Health Service Executive (HSE) of the benefits of using rapid antigen detection tests (RADTs) to detect Covid-19 in meat-processing plant workers.
In Ireland and other countries, meat processing plants have experienced a considerable number of Covid-19 outbreaks.
In a recent analysis, the public health watchdog noted that meat processing plants workers were at a higher risk of Covid-19 than the general population; while outbreaks in plants were associated with approximately 3,000 cases of the virus in this country.
To help address this risk, HIQA said, serial testing of workers using monthly reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing was introduced.
The watchdog later examined the impact of also using RADTs to further mitigate transmission risk in these settings.
It was found that the preferred testing strategy used RADT-based serial testing once weekly, with positive antigen tests confirmed by RT-PCR.
This increased the detection of cases, reduced the number of days of infectious individuals being in a plant, and reduced the overall cost relative to the current practice of monthly RT-PCR testing.
Twice weekly RADT-based serial testing could also be considered, HIQA added.
Commenting on the findings, HIQA’s Chief Scientist Dr Conor Teljeur said the watchdog has advised the HSE of the benefits of introducing weekly RADTs in meat-processing plants.
But he cautioned that before discontinuing monthly RT-PCR-based serial testing, further evaluation would need to be carried out to ensure the strategy was ‘both acceptable to relevant stakeholders and is implementable within the individual plants’.
“We would favour a stepwise transition to frequent RADT-based serial testing, with the switch from monthly RT-PCR conditional on successful deployment of RADT-based testing within a plant,” Dr Teljeur explained.
“The higher risk associated with transmission in meat-processing plants is multifactorial,” he said.
“As with other high-risk settings, contributing environmental issues can include the reduced ability to social distance, cold air, limited ventilation and loud work-spaces.
In addition, a number of non-environmental risk factors exist for the sector, such as shared accommodation, low wages and access to support payments.”
This report is available here.