Views: 0 Author: Site Editor Publish Time: 2022-08-31 Origin: Site
The most common and fastest type of flu test is called a rapid influenza diagnostic test (RIDT). This test detects antigens specific to the virus.
RIDTs are less accurate than other flu tests because of how they test for flu viruses. Rapid molecular assays and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests are more accurate.
Currently, the FDA has authorized several tests that have the ability to detect multiple respiratory viruses at the same time, including the flu and COVID-19.
Pumpkin spice, turkey, and the seasonal flu — these are sure signs that the colder months of the year are upon us. The flu is a contagious infection caused by the influenza virus. While some flu seasons are worse than others, the flu can get as many as 41 million people in the U.S. sick some years.
If you have a cough, sore throat, or fever, you may be wondering if you have the flu. The only way to find out for sure is to visit a healthcare provider. Besides examining you and asking you about your symptoms, they may test you for the flu virus. Within minutes, you’ll know if you have the flu or not.
Read on to learn more about flu tests, how accurate they are, and whether other viruses can be tested for at the same time.
Is there a test for the flu?
Yes, there are several flu tests available. They’re usually administered by a healthcare provider. The most common and fastest type of flu test is called a rapid influenza diagnostic test (RIDT), which detects antigens specific to the virus. You’ll typically get results in about 10 to 15 minutes, but they aren’t 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 aren’t 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 don’t have the flu when you really do.
Other types of flu tests include:
Rapid molecular assays. These will provide results in about 15 to 30 minutes and are more accurate than RIDTs.
Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests. These are more accurate than both RIDTs and rapid molecular assays but are usually only done at hospitals or special laboratories. Results can take anywhere from 45 minutes to a few hours.
Immunofluorescence. This type of test uses a special microscope to detect flu viruses. So this test wouldn’t be available at all clinics. It takes about 2 to 4 hours to get results.
Viral cultures. This type of flu test is the slowest, taking 1 to 3 days to get results. The test sample needs to be sent to a lab where it’s grown and examined by experts. This type of test is usually only done for research purposes and can help experts find out which flu virus strains are circulating in communities.
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, it’s a temporary feeling that’ll 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.
The accuracy of flu tests varies depending on the type of test
RIDTs may be quick, but they’re not as accurate as other tests. They’re able to detect flu viruses between 50% and 70% of the time. If paired with a special reader device, they become slightly more accurate (75% to 80%).
Rapid molecular assays are much more accurate than RIDTs. They’re 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 (CDC), immunofluorescence tests have “moderate” accuracy, but an exact percentage isn’t 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 (or viruses) 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.
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