Everything You Need to Know About Rapid Flu Tests

It’s the dead of winter and all of a sudden you’re not feeling well. Your body’s achy all over and you’ve developed a fever, cough and sore throat. Thinking about all the things on your to-do list, you try to resist the urge to climb back in bed.

You believe you might’ve gotten the pesky flu. But it could just be flu-like symptoms, but not actually the flu, such as the common cold or strep throat. All you know is you want to start feeling better, and fast.

When Is the Best Time to Get a Rapid Flu Test?

“There’s no hard and fast rule with a rapid flu test,” according to Dr. J.D. Zipkin, Associate Medical Director with Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care. Symptoms for the flu can vary from one person to the next and from one flu season to the next.

However, if a patient presents with what appears to be the flu, doctors are going to treat for the flu. This could mean prescribing antiviral drugs or other medications to help alleviate your flu symptoms until the virus has naturally taken its course.

“The best utility for a rapid flu test is when symptoms are not necessarily indicative of the flu,” said Zipkin, “when you’re trying to distinguish between the flu and another upper respiratory infection.” And since the antiviral medications used to treat flu only work if you start them within the first two days of illness, it’s important to come in for testing and treatment right away.

Rapid flu tests, or rapid influenza diagnostic tests, are also recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during an acute respiratory disease outbreak to determine if influenza is the cause, and to subsequently ensure public health preventative and control measures are in place within the community.

How Accurate Is a Rapid Flu Test at Detecting the Influenza Virus?

While they may only take 10-15 minutes to detect the presence of influenza virus antigens, rapid flu tests are not failproof. This is even after new, stricter rapid flu test standards passed by the FDA in February 2018.

Effectiveness varies depending on the type of diagnostic test used and the type of influenza that is circulating – and this can cause false negative and, to a lesser extent, false positive testing results.

Still, if your symptoms resemble the seasonal flu, it might be helpful to check for flu viruses and rapid flu testing is the quickest way. Doctors will know when to use screening tests appropriately.

Studies have also shown that rapid flu tests tend to be better at detecting the flu in children than adults.

Could I Have Prevented Getting Sick?

Your best chance at avoiding the flu is to prep for the season. Getting a flu shot should be your first line of defense, especially if you’re pregnant or older than 65 and are at higher risk for flu complications.

Though it may be too late for a flu vaccination if you’ve already gotten sick, there are other daily prevention methods that can help keep you healthy. For starters, try washing your hands regularly, eating a balanced diet and sleeping at least 7 hours a night (if you’re not already doing so).

Want to get back to feeling like your normal self? The health care providers at GoHealth Urgent Care are here when you need us most. Find a walk-in clinic in your neighborhood or select your location below to save your spot online.