Expert Tips For Getting A Flu Test
Here are a few things to note when seeking care for your flu symptoms:
Who Should Get Testing
Flu tests are typically only performed when you have symptoms that are suggestive of a possible influenza virus infection. Several factors can influence whether flu testing is likely to be beneficial, including:
- Whether there is extensive transmission of influenza viruses in your community
- Whether you are at higher risk of severe complications from the flu
- Whether the test result will change your treatment plan
- Whether you have gotten sick as part of a respiratory disease outbreak in a school, nursing home, cruise ship, or similar situation where flu diagnosis may influence infection control measures
In many cases, especially if you have mild symptoms or are not at high risk of complications, a flu test is unnecessary because it will not change the course of your medical care. Similarly, if an influenza virus is spreading in your area and you have symptoms that are consistent with the flu, a diagnosis of influenza can be made without a flu test.
In contrast, if you have severe symptoms, are being hospitalized, or have an elevated risk of developing life-threatening complications, you are more likely to have flu testing. Testing is also generally done more often during seasonal periods when influenza virus transmission is high.
Uc Davis Health Among The First To Use Highly Accurate Game
UC Davis Health has rolled out a groundbreaking, highly accurate test that can check for both COVID-19 and flu viruses at the same time, returning gold-standard results in 20 minutes.
UC Davis Health is the first in the region and among the first in the nation to use these rapid, combined molecular tests at the point of care. It was one of the institutions that helped evaluate the accuracy of the tests so they could gain emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is also the first UC health system to use the test.
This will change how COVID-19 testing is performed in emergency or urgent care settings, said Nam Tran, professor of laboratory medicine and UC Davis Health site principal investigator for the clinical validation of the new test. It can be administered right away by doctors or nurses at a patients bedside.
One valuable aspect is the unique combination of accuracy and speed qualities that have been somewhat of an either/or choice in COVID-19 testing. Just as important is the ease in administering a single test to detect COVID-19 and both A and B flu viruses. This is crucial with COVID-19 cases on the rise again and flu season looming more dangerously than ever.
The new rapid test is aimed toward the emergency department or clinics when doctors and other healthcare providers need to make fast treatment decisions, Tran said.
Lydia Pleotis Howell
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What Kinds Of Flu Tests Are There
A number of tests are available to detect flu viruses in respiratory specimens. The most common are called rapid influenza diagnostic tests . RIDTs work by detecting the parts of the virus that stimulate an immune response. These tests can provide results within approximately 10-15 minutes but may not be as accurate as other flu tests. Therefore, you could still have flu, even though your rapid test result is negative. Other flu tests called rapid molecular assays detect genetic material of the flu virus. Rapid molecular assays produce results in 15-20 minutes and are more accurate than RIDTs.
In addition to RIDTs and rapid molecular assays, there are several more accurate flu tests available that must be performed in specialized laboratories, such as those found in hospitals or public health laboratories. These tests include reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction , viral culture, and immunofluorescence assays. All of require that a health care provider swipe the inside of your nose or the back of your throat with a swab and then send the swab for testing. Results may take one to several hours.
What Should You Do If You Feel Sick
If you feel unwell with any of these symptoms, the best thing to do is to self-quarantine at home including avoiding contact with other household members and to get a COVID-19 test. Many testing sites take appointments without a referral from a doctor.
We have to take an abundance of caution and try to catch all of these cases where we can, said Fahimi.
Jahan Fahimi, MD
The benefit of knowing you have COVID-19 is that you can take precautions to prevent spreading the disease, contact tracers can alert people you have been around recently, and doctors can follow up in case your condition worsens.
We may be able to preemptively get someone into care a little bit sooner, which could impact their disease trajectory, said Fahimi.
Flu tests are also widely available but generally require a visit to the doctors office or urgent care. When diagnosed early, the flu can be treated with the antiviral Tamiflu.
Even if you test negative for both COVID-19 and the flu, its best to self-quarantine until three days after your symptoms disappear, said Fahimi. Theres a small chance that a negative test result could be wrong. Moreover, many other respiratory illnesses, from the common cold to croup, circulate during the flu season and spreading them would also spread uncertainty.
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When Should I Call My Healthcare Provider About My Flu Test
If you have any questions about your flu test, reach out to your provider. It may be helpful to ask the following questions:
- How do you interpret my test result?
- Do you think my test result is accurate?
- Should I have any follow-up testing?
- Given my symptoms and result, are there any treatment options or medications you recommend?
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Tests
Advantages of the test
- RIDTs produce quick results in less than 15 minutes and are simple to perform.
- Some RIDTs are cleared for office/bedside use.
Disadvantages of the test
- Sub-optimal test sensitivity and false-negative results are common, especially when influenza activity is high.
- Sensitivity of RIDTs used to detect influenza B viral antigens is lower than those used to detect influenza A viral antigens.
- Although specificity is high, false-positive results can also occur, especially during times when influenza activity is low.
- Some RIDTs distinguish between influenza A and B viruses, while others do not.
- RIDTs that provide results on the type of influenza virus do not provide information on influenza A virus subtype or specific virus strain. RIDTs cannot distinguish between seasonal influenza A virus infection and novel influenza A virus infection .
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The Accuracy Of Flu Tests Varies Depending On The Type Of Test
RIDTs may be quick, but theyre not as accurate as other tests. Theyre able to detect flu viruses between 50% and 70% of the time. If paired with a special reader device, they become slightly more accurate .
Rapid molecular assays are much more accurate than RIDTs. Theyre typically between 90% and 95% accurate.
RT-PCR tests are also very accurate flu tests. Some studies have even found them to be 98% accurate at detecting flu viruses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , immunofluorescence tests have moderate accuracy, but an exact percentage isnt provided. All we can say from this information is that this flu test is less accurate than rapid molecular assays and RT-PCR tests.
No matter which flu test you take, if you get a positive test result, there is a good chance that you are infected with the virus identified by the test. However, it does not rule out the possibility of a coinfection, which means that you may also be infected with another virus or bacteria not included in the test.
If you get a negative result, it means that the genetic material of the viruses being tested were not found in your sample. But as we discussed, it is possible to get a false negative result especially if you have symptoms, exposure risk, or other factors that suggest that you are infected. Your provider may use all of this information in determining the best course of action.
What Factors Can Influence Results Of Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Tests
Many factors can influence the accuracy of RIDTs, including:
- Clinical signs and symptoms consistent with the flu
- Prevalence of influenza infection in the population tested
- Time from illness onset to collection of respiratory specimens for testing
- Type of respiratory specimen tested
- Accuracy of the test compared to a reference test
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Is There A Test For The Flu
Yes, there are several flu tests available. Theyre usually administered by a healthcare provider. The most common and fastest type of flu test is called a rapid influenza diagnostic test , which detects antigens specific to the virus. Youll typically get results in about 10 to 15 minutes, but they arent as accurate as other flu tests.
The reason RIDTs are less accurate is because they test for flu virus antigen. Antigens are pieces of a germ left behind after our immune cells start to kill some of the germs. Antigen tests arent as sensitive to flu viruses as the other tests listed above. They have a higher chance of giving you a false negative result. That means that the test says you dont have the flu when you really do.
Other types of flu tests include:
A flu swab test is one of the most common methods of taking a sample for your flu test. Typically, a special swab that might look similar to a long cotton swab is used to take a sample from your nose or throat. This type of flu test can be a little uncomfortable for some people. But rest assured, its a temporary feeling thatll quickly go away after the sample is collected.
Flu tests are usually done by a healthcare provider, but there are some at-home options, too. More on that below.
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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Are There Any Symptoms That Are Distinctive About Covid
One sign that does seem more specific to COVID-19 is the sudden loss of smell or taste.
Initially underappreciated as a symptom, the sudden loss of smell or taste is now thought to be a common symptom of COVID-19 and may be the first symptom in up to 25 percent of COVID-19 cases, according to one review.
That would be one symptom that I would be particularly concerned about for COVID-19, said Fahimi.
How Are Samples Collected For Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Tests
There are two main methods of getting a sample for testing:
These samples are checked for the presence of viral particles. A positive result means that the rapid influenza diagnostic test detected the influenza viral particle in the fluid. However, this does not necessarily mean the virus is alive and thriving in the body because it may also detect a dead viral particle.
- A positive result is most likely a true positive result if the respiratory specimen was collected close to illness onset during periods of high influenza activity.
- A negative result simply means that the RIDT did not detect an influenza viral antigen and could be a false-negative.
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What Does The Test Measure
There are different types of measurements that can be used in at-home tests to detect an influenza virus infection.
Some at-home flu tests measure whether there are any detectable proteins on the surface of the influenza virus called antigens. These viral antigens, when present in the respiratory tract, can then trigger a response from the immune system resulting in the flu-like symptoms. The presence of antigens on a nasal swab or saliva sample can be an indication of an influenza infection.
Another type of at-home flu test measures whether there are any pieces of the viruss genetic material in your test sample and are known as molecular tests. One common type of molecular test uses technology known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction .
Getting Tested For Influenza
Tests for influenza infection are often ordered by a doctor and conducted in a hospital, doctors office, or laboratory. Rapid flu tests may also be done in outpatient settings like health clinics or pharmacies.
Testing for influenza normally involves a swab of the area in the back of the nose, the inside of the nostril, and/or the throat. For most people, obtaining a sample is not painful and can be done in under a minute.
In addition to flu swabs, testing can be done with nasopharyngeal aspirates, which are samples removed through the nose with a suction device. Because they are more difficult and uncomfortable to obtain, nasopharyngeal aspirates are not commonly used for diagnostic testing.
The only type of flu testing that does not use a sample from the respiratory tract is serology testing, which is not used for flu diagnosis. Serology tests require a blood sample that is typically taken from a vein in the arm.
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Will We Have Enough Tests
The most accurate tests for COVID-19 and the flu are both PCR tests that require some of the same reagents, or chemicals to process the tests, raising concerns that surges in both infections this winter could strain testing capacity.
I think weve done a much better job of sorting out the supply chain thats necessary to support a broader amount of testing, said Fahimi. So Im hopeful that were not going to run out of tests.
You May Have The Flu Even If You Dont Test Positive For It
The flu can be deadly and deceptive. Rapid flu tests used in clinics and doctors’ offices can show that patients don’t have the flu when they actually do.
These false negatives aren’t uncommon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that rapid influenza testing has a sensitivity ranging from approximately 50% to 70%. That means that in up to half of influenza cases, the flu swab results will be negative.
“Doctors test for flu with a swab that goes up the nose,” said Jeremy Allen, MD, of American Family Care, in a statement. “A certain amount of antigen or the substance that’s linked to the virus is needed to get a positive flu result. Sometimes the sample isn’t broad enough and the flu isn’t detected.”
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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.
Can I Have Flu And Covid
Yes. It is possible to have flu as well as other respiratory illnesses including COVID-19 at the same time. Health experts are still studying how common this can be.
Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Diagnostic testing can help determine if you are sick with flu, COVID-19, or another respiratory infection.
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