Thermal cameras and other temperature screening products are “not a reliable way” of detecting Covid-19, says the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency).

The UK medical device regulator has warned manufacturers and suppliers not to make direct claims that these products can diagnose the virus, as there is “little scientific evidence” to support temperature screening as a testing method.

Graeme Tunbridge, MHRA director of devices, said: “Many thermal cameras and temperature screening products were originally designed for non-medical purposes, such as for building or site security.

“Businesses and organisations need to know that using these products for temperature screening could put people’s health at risk.

“These products should only be used in line with the manufacturer’s original intended use, and not to screen people for Covid-19 symptoms. They do not perform to the level required to accurately support a medical diagnosis.

“We are reminding anyone selling these products not to make claims which directly relate to Covid-19 diagnosis. If they fail to comply, we will take formal enforcement action.”


Temperature screening for Covid-19

As lockdown restrictions are lifted across the UK and other countries, thermal imaging has gained attention over its use to detect a high temperature or fever — a symptom of Covid-19.

At the beginning of the outbreak, several airports deployed this technology as a way of detecting infected passengers, and, in June, an NHS trust in the North Midlands became the first UK healthcare organisation to install thermal cameras to tackle the virus.

However, the use of thermal imaging in diagnosing Covid-19 was described as “stupid” by industry boss Dr Bobby Schwartz last month, who claimed companies are using the technology “incorrectly”.

The MHRA has now warned against making direct claims about temperature screening capabilities regarding Covid-19, as natural fluctuations in skin and body temperature can occur among healthy individuals, making it an “unreliable” way of detecting Covid-19, or any other diseases symptomised by fever.

temperature screening covid-19 mhra
Graeme Tunbridge, MHRA director of devices (Credit: GOV.UK)

The regulator also warned that infected people who do not develop a fever — or show any other known symptoms of the novel coronavirus — would not be detected by a temperature reading, and may, therefore, be more likely to unknowingly spread the virus.

The MHRA also recommended that businesses and workplaces should follow the UK government’s advice on safe working during the pandemic, as well as implementing “scientifically reliable methods” of testing for Covid-19.

On 3 July, Lord Bethell, parliamentary under-secretary for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), said: “As pubs and restaurants begin to reopen, it’s important businesses do not rely on temperature screening tools and other products which do not work.

“The best way to protect customers and minimise the risk of catching the virus is to always follow social distancing guidelines, wearing a face mask on public transport and enclosed public spaces, and regularly washing your hands.”