An average of 3,200 people a year die from viruses, and many of those deaths are due to non-infectious diseases such as influenza and pneumonia.
But as well as being a cost to healthcare systems, testing is also used by governments to gauge public health trends and to identify public health threats.
“The testing that we do on our customers is not only a cost, it’s also a cost of health care,” said Richard Firth, chief scientific officer at VirScan, the UK’s largest private testing firm.
He added that, at the moment, there was not enough research on how often people should be tested, but that “the next step will be to have a better understanding of what the right thing to do is”.
The UK is a world leader in testing for viruses.
Its health service has a global population of nearly 1.3 billion people.
The NHS currently tests for over 40,000 viruses, of which nearly two thirds are respiratory viruses.
“We test around a third of the UK population and in terms of our ability to detect infections, we’re quite a good partner,” Firth said.
But, he added, the current testing system could “cost us up to $40bn in lost productivity”.
Firth warned that a lack of information “makes us very vulnerable” to new viruses.
If the UK does not change its testing policies, the country could be at risk of a new pandemic, he said.
The UK’s tests are based on a single test and the government uses a different set of protocols for each patient, he explained.
“It is very, very important that we have robust and reliable testing protocols that can be replicated across a population.”
The current tests have been tested by a team from the Royal College of Surgeons, which said that, based on their data, they were “well within” the UK guidelines for public health tests.
However, the research team warned that, while they had been using the tests in the UK for the last 10 years, it was “not something that is happening very often”.
A spokesperson for the Royal Society of Medicine said the current UK tests were “not yet widely deployed” and would be rolled out in a phased way over a period of time.
“These changes are likely to take several years,” the spokesperson said.
Firth told the BBC that while the UK was “the best country in the world for public testing”, it was not always the most efficient.
He pointed out that the tests take time to complete, and that “if we do this quickly, it could save thousands of lives”.