How To Tell The Difference Between Covid
Flu season peaks between December and February. Paired with the ongoing battle with COVID-19, medical experts from NewYork-Presbyterian medical groups say we could have a twindemic on our hands an influenza epidemic unfolding in the middle of a relentless COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2019 influenza virus caused an estimated 35 million illnesses in the U.S. The severity of this years flu season is unpredictable, but a lot of people may be coughing and sneezing, so the likelihood of transmission is much higher when youre having active symptoms.
But what exactly are those symptoms? Just as in the spring when it was difficult to tell the difference between seasonal allergies and COVID-19, the challenge now will be identifying what could be signs of COVID-19 vs. flu.
What Is The Flu
Influenza is an acute respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses that routinely spreads through the U.S. during the winter months. Frequent symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, sore throat, cough, congestion, chills, and a runny or stuffy nose. While this respiratory infection can be mild for many, it is serious and even life-threatening for some. Those most at risk for severe complications are young children, older adults, pregnant women, those with chronic health conditions, or those with weakened immune systems. Many people diagnose themselves with the flu and manage the illness at home with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, getting a flu test and a prescription antiviral medication can reduce the severity and length of your symptoms.
When Should You Get Tested For The Flu
Angela Underwood’s extensive local, state, and federal healthcare and environmental news coverage includes 911 first-responder compensation policy to the Ciba-Geigy water contamination case in Toms River, NJ. Her additional health-related coverage includes death and dying, skin care, and autism spectrum disorder.
Verywell Health / Brianna Gilmartin
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Is There A Test For The Flu
Yes. Flu tests require a respiratory sample, such as a nasal swab, to check for the presence of the flu virus.
The flu is a respiratory infection caused by a virus . It occurs most often during the winter and easily spreads from person to person from coughing, sneezing and/or touching contaminated surfaces. Most seasonal flu outbreaks are caused by the A and/or B flu viruses.
How To Know If You Have The Flu
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, it is first and foremost important to test for COVID-19. Especially as the new highly transmissible Omicron variant circulates, getting a COVID-19 diagnosis early will allow you to self-isolate and protect others from infection.
For a flu diagnosis, Schaffner recommends first reaching out to a primary care provider via a telehealth portal, email, or phone. Showing up to a doctors office or urgent care site puts others at risk of getting sick and it may be unnecessary unless youre experiencing a medical emergency.
Peter Chin-Hong, MD, professor of infectious diseases at University of California, San Francisco, recommends taking a flu test if you tested negative for COVID-19. While uncommon, its possible to be infected with both COVID-19 and flu at the same time.
I think a lot of people are stuck in limbo land with symptoms, Chin-Hong told Verywell. You keep doing a million BinaxNOW assays just because you want to convince yourself that you don’t have COVID.
Health providers can diagnose a case of the flu through a description of symptoms, a physical exam, or through a nasal or throat swab test.
There was an increase in the number of flu tests this year, driven in part by concern that this flu season would see a particularly high case rate, Chin-Hong said. In the last week of November, nearly 59,000 samples were tested for the flu, compared with 22,000 specimens during the same week in 2018.
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How Accurate Are Flu Tests
Generally speaking, if your flu test is positive, you have the flu. If your flu test is negative, its possible the test doesnt recognize the flu strain type that you have. The person performing your flu test also may not have collected enough material to accurately detect the flu.
According to the American Association of Clinical Chemistry, rapid antigen tests are about 50 to 70 percent accurate, although the Food and Drug Administration has required more recent tests to make changes to improve their results.
Molecular tests are anywhere from 66 to 100 percent accurate. The results and accuracy depend upon what test type you use.
Testing specimens are most likely to be accurate when theyre measured within 48 to 72 hours of the onset of your flu symptoms.
Less is known about flu tests abilities to detect the flu in asymptomatic patients because most people seek the tests when they arent feeling well.
How Long Does A Flu Test Take
Getting a flu test isnt usually a time-consuming experience. Your healthcare professional may use one of several approaches to collect a specimen. These include:
- Deep nasal swab. This testing method involves inserting a swab about one inch into the nostril. It doesnt require inserting as deeply as a nasopharyngeal swab .
- Nasopharyngeal or nasal aspirate. A less commonly used method, this involves using a special suction catcher to suction mucus for sample collection. When the suction catheter is very far in the back of the throat, doctors call this nasopharyngeal aspirate.
- Nasopharyngeal swab. For this test, youll be asked to tilt your head back, and a healthcare provider will swab both nostrils. The swab should be inserted to where theres an equal distance between the nostril and the outer ear opening.
- Throat or nasal swab. This testing method involves using both a nasal swab as well as a throat swab that reaches back into the tonsil area of the throat.
Each of these testing methods usually takes no more than 1 minute to perform. Its waiting for your results that can prove longer.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , rapid flu tests are more accurate in detecting the flu in children compared with adults.
With these and other flu tests, its still possible to get a false negative. A doctor should take your symptoms into account as well as if youve been around anyone who was recently diagnosed with the flu.
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How The Combination Test Kit Works
The Pixel by Labcorp kit allows people to test for the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. It involves using a short nasal swab thats inserted into the lower nostril. Once the sample is taken, its placed into a prepaid envelope and shipped to a Labcorp faciltiy.
Test results are available between one to two days after the company receives the collection kit and, in most instances, theyre available a day after the kit is received. Results can be viewed through the patients Pixel by Labcorp account and, if it was ordered by a doctor, they will be available through the patient portal and Labcorp Patient app.
Labcorp says the test kit will be available at no upfront cost to people who meet the clinical guidelines, which can include:
- Experiencing symptoms
- Being exposed to someone with COVID-19
- Being asked to be tested by a healthcare provider
Think You Might Have The Flu Heres What To Do
Feeling achy? Tired? Feverish? Wondering if you have the flu or even something else?
If youre feeling a little off this season, then you may be considering a sick visit to your neighborhood MinuteClinic®. Seeking care for your flu-like symptoms is more important than ever, especially as we get closer to peak flu season, which typically hits the U.S. in February. Unfortunately, this years flu season is once again complicated by the presence of COVID-19. So, if youre feeling a little off, you may be wondering, Do I have the flu?, making it even more important to get checked, tested and treated as soon as you start to feel symptoms.
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How To Protect Yourself Against The Flu And Covid
If there was ever a year when you were going to get a flu shot, this is the year. Call your doctor to make an appointment.
To avoid a potential twindemic this year, medical experts at NewYork-Presbyterian medical groups recommend taking the following precautions:
- Get a flu shot. Call your doctor now to schedule an appointment to get your flu shot, as you should receive it prior to the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Practice safety precautions. Fortunately, the preventive measures for COVID-19 also apply for the flu: avoiding large crowds and gatherings, wearing a mask, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and staying at home when you feel sick.
- Take care of your immune system. Caring for your immune system is very important to fight off infections, especially viruses. Boost your immunity by eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep.
For more articles about science, care, and wellness, visit healthmatters.nyp.org.
How Accurate Is The Rapid Flu Test
Rapid influenza diagnostic tests accurately detect the presence of the flu virus antigen between 50% to 70% of the time and are better at detecting influenza A than influenza B. Some modifications to the test can increase accuracy to about 80% this increased accuracy is now required by the Food and Drug Administration .
In practical terms, this means if 10 people with the flu were tested, the test would miss two to five of those and falsely report that they did not have the virus. This is known as a false negative result. RIDTs are not the preferred method of testing due to the high likelihood of these false negative results.
The RIDTs, if positive for influenza, are pretty accuratemeaning if the test is positive, the chance you have influenza is great. Roughly 1 out of 10 tests will result in a false positive, which for a test done in the office in 15 minutes is very good. A false positive is less likely to occur during flu season and more likely to occur outside of flu season when fewer people have the flu.
|Compare accuracy of rapid flu tests|
Rapid molecular assay tests tend to be more accurate than RIDTs, with a 90 to 95% likelihood that the test will detect the virus in those who have the flu. Using the example above, if you have 10 people who have the flu, the RIDT may miss anywhere from two to five of those diagnoses, but the molecular assay would miss only one, if any.
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Can I Get My Flu Vaccine With My Covid Booster
Health authorities around the country have urged people to get vaccinated against the flu.
Queensland Acting Chief Health Officer Peter Aitken is the latest to remind us that you can get vaccinated against the flu and COVID on the same day.
“Most people have two shoulders and you can get a flu vaccine and a COVID vaccine at the same time,”Dr Aitken said yesterday.
Questions For Your Doctor After At
If youve recently taken an at-home flu test, the following questions may be useful to discuss with your doctor:
- How do you interpret my test result?
- Do you think the at-home test that I took was accurate?
- Should I have any follow-up testing?
- Are any treatments or other measures appropriate given my symptoms and test result?
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Is It Worth Getting Tested For The Flu
Testing has plenty of benefits, Dr Short says.
Confirmation of an infection can determine how quickly you’re able to access treatments.
“We have seen the power of diagnostics and how important diagnostics is in outbreak management,” she says.
“This comes down to specific risks. Imagine if someone is elderly, or they have underlying conditions, they test early on in their illness, and they test positive for the flu and not COVID.
“They would then be eligible for antivirals, specifically Tamiflu, which reduces disease severity.”
It’s something many have witnessed during COVID.
“If they test positive for COVID they would be eligible for antivirals or monoclonal antibodies to reduce disease severity,” she says.
“Once you know and provided you know early enough in the course of the infection then you can have some treatment.
“These antivirals work very early in the course .”
What This Means For You
If you have any flu-like symptoms, get tested for COVID-19 immediately. If your test comes back negative, call your doctor to check if you should go in for a flu test. Healthcare providers may be able to prescribe antiviral medication for the flu.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.
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How Is The Flu Diagnosed
Its common for health care providers to diagnose the flu basedon symptoms and an exam, especially during flu season when the flu isgoing around your community. Often times a flu test isnt performedbecause testing positive for the flu doesnt change the recommendedtreatment. However, your health care provider will likely suggest aflu test if you are at high risk for serious complications from theflu. In addition, if you are admitted into the hospital because yourprovider suspects you may have the flu, you will likely be tested forthe virus.
How Does A Rapid Flu Test Work
The most common are called rapid influenza diagnostic tests .& CloseCurlyDoubleQuote RIDTs work bydetecting the parts of the virus that stimulate animmune response. These tests can provide results withinapproximately 10-15 minutes, but are not as accurate as other flu tests . Results may take one hour or severalhours.
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Figure: Guide For Considering Influenza Testing When Influenza Viruses Are Circulating In The Community 1
1. Confirmation of influenza virus infection by diagnostic testing is not required for decisions to prescribe antiviral medication. Decision-making should be based upon signs and symptoms consistent with influenza illness and epidemiologic factors. Initiation of empiric antiviral treatment should not be delayed while influenza testing results are pending. Antiviral treatment is clinically most beneficial when started as close to illness onset as possible. Influenza vaccine effectiveness is moderate and so a history of current season influenza vaccination does not exclude a diagnosis of influenza.
2. Signs and symptoms of uncomplicated influenza vary by age, underlying health conditions, and immune function. Common signs and symptoms include fever with nonproductive cough or other suggestive respiratory symptoms, often with myalgias or headache. Fever is not always present, including in premature and young infants, immunocompromised and immunosuppressed persons, and especially in elderly persons. Note that some persons may have atypical presentations -especially infants and elderly .
3. Complications associated with influenza can vary by age, immune status, and underlying medical conditions. Some examples include worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions lower respiratory tract disease invasive bacterial co-infection cardiac musculoskeletal neurologic multi-organ failure .
Is It Possible To Tell The Difference Between Flu Symptoms And Covid
I think its tough because both the flu and COVID-19 can have a variety of overlapping symptoms, said Fahimi. Those symptoms can include fever, chills and body aches, upper respiratory symptoms like runny nose and sore throat, lower respiratory symptoms like cough and pneumonia, and some gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
While you could say certain symptoms are slightly more associated with one virus than the other, theres enough overlap that theres uncertainty, cautioned Fahimi. So we wouldnt use the presence or absence of those symptoms to rule in or out either illness.
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Influenza Virus Testing Methods
|Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Tests4||A and B||NP5 swab, aspirate or wash, nasal swab, aspirate or wash, throat swab||< 15 min.|
|Rapid Molecular Assay||A and B|
|Immunofluorescence, Direct or Indirect Florescent Antibody Staining||A and B||NP4 swab or wash, bronchial wash, nasal or endotracheal aspirate||1-4 hours||No|
|RT-PCR7 and other molecular assays||A and B||NP5 swab, throat swab, NP5 or bronchial wash, nasal or endotracheal aspirate, sputum||Varies||No|
|Rapid cell culture||A and B||NP5 swab, throat swab, NP5 or bronchial wash, nasal or endotracheal aspirate, sputum||1-3 days|
|Viral tissue cell culture||A and B||NP5 swab, throat swab, NP5 or bronchial wash, nasal or endotracheal aspirate, sputum||3-10 days||No|
Is There A Test That Can Detect Both Flu And Covid
Yes. There is a test that will check for seasonal flu type A and B viruses and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This test is being used by U.S. public health laboratories for surveillance purposes. Testing for these viruses at the same time will give public health officials important information about how flu and COVID-19 are spreading and what prevention steps should be taken. The test will also help public health laboratories save time and testing materials, and to possibly return test results faster.
The Food and Drug Administration has given CDC an Emergency Use Authorizationexternal icon for this new test. Initial test kits were sent to public health laboratories in early August 2020. CDC will continue to manufacture and distribute these kits.
More information for laboratories is available.
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