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  • Also Known As:
  • At-Home Influenza Test
  • At-Home Rapid Influenza Antigen Test
  • At-Home Rapid Flu Antigen Test
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The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses which spread most frequently during the colder months of the year. While the flu causes only mild symptoms in many people, it can lead to life-threatening complications, especially for children, older adults, and other vulnerable groups with certain health conditions.

At-home flu tests use a nasal swab to test for the presence of an influenza virus. The test may help identify the cause of flu-like symptoms; however, the results of the test must be interpreted carefully and should be reviewed with a doctor.

There is currently only one type of at-home flu test:

Self-collection molecular tests: These tests use a nasal swab and/or a saliva sample that you collect at home and then send to a laboratory to be analyzed. Instead of testing the sample for antigens, these tests use molecular techniques such as RT-PCR to look for traces of the influenza virus’s genetic material.

The Best At-Home Flu Test

Test Price Type Tests for: Results in: Insurance accepted? Who should use it:
Labcorp COVID-19 + Flu PCR Test (At-Home Collection Kit)best for flu and COVID-19 $0 upfront if insured, $169 self-pay (available June 2022) Self-collection
  • Influenza A
  • Influenza B
  • COVID-19 (Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Lambda, Mu, Omicron variants)
Within 1 to 2 business days Yes Anyone concerned about exposure to flu or COVID-19.

About the Test

Purpose of at-home flu tests

The purpose of at-home flu testing is to detect the presence of the flu virus. This can help determine if symptoms are being caused by an influenza virus and may help a doctor diagnose the flu. Quickly detecting an influenza infection can also enable measures to reduce the chances of spreading the virus to other people.

Some at-home flu tests use a nasal swab or saliva sample to also test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The goal of this combined testing is to look for two separate viruses that can cause similar respiratory symptoms and may have the potential to trigger more serious complications.

What do at-home flu tests measure?

There are different types of measurements that can be used to detect an influenza virus infection.

Some 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.

The at-home flu test that is currently available measures whether there are any pieces of the virus’s genetic material in your test sample and is known as a molecular test. One common type of molecular test uses technology known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).

When should I get an at-home flu test?

There are no strict guidelines or clear recommendations for when to take an at-home flu test.

In general, flu testing is only conducted when you have symptoms that could be caused by an underlying infection with an influenza virus. Testing is most often done when symptoms are significant or when you are at higher risk of flu complications because of your age, coexisting medical conditions, or pregnancy.

A flu test is often not necessary if you have only mild symptoms and flu transmission in your community is high. In these cases, testing may not be needed because it would not change the way you are treated.

If you have flu-like symptoms or are concerned about possibly having the flu, you should talk with a doctor. Since there are multiple factors involved in determining whether a flu test is appropriate, the doctor can address whether testing, including at-home testing, is recommended in your situation.

Benefits and Downsides of At-Home Flu Testing

To decide if at-home flu testing is a good fit for your needs, it’s important to consider its potential positives and negatives.

The main possible benefits of at-home flu testing include:

  • Convenience: An at-home test can be ordered online and performed at home at your convenience without needing to make an appointment or go to a medical office.
  • Testing in isolation: If you are worried about being contagious with the flu, at-home testing allows you to get tested while avoiding contact with other people.
  • Option to test for flu and COVID-19: The current at-home test kit that is available tests for both the flu and COVID-19 with one sample.
  • Transparent pricing: Most at-home influenza testing involves a single, all-inclusive price that is clearly shown before making your payment.

Some of the main possible downsides of at-home flu testing include:

  • Potential sample collection errors: While test kits include detailed instructions, there is the potential for an invalid or inaccurate result if the test sample is not collected properly.
  • Testing may not affect your medical care: In many cases, the results of an at-home flu test will not change the next steps in your care and recovery.
  • Out-of-pocket cost: Insurance often does not cover at-home flu testing, requiring you to personally pay for the full cost of the test kit.
  • Time delay on self-collection tests: Since the test requires sending your sample to a lab, it can take several days before you receive a result.

If you have questions about whether to have at-home influenza testing, you can talk with your doctor about how to evaluate its pros and cons in your specific case.

The Best At-Home Flu Test

At-home flu testing is limited, but you should consider whether this type of test is what you’re looking for. Read more to learn about how you can get at-home flu testing:

Methodology

At-home flu tests were reviewed based on value, convenience, and availability of tests. These overall factors are based on data including price, insurance acceptance, comprehensiveness of tests, and how quickly you can get results and speak to a doctor. Flu test selections have been screened by Testing.com’s Medical Review Board.

Best for Flu and COVID-19

Labcorp COVID-19 + Flu PCR Test (At-Home Collection Kit)

COVID-19 plus Flu PCR Test Kit

Price: $0 upfront if insured, $169 self-pay (available June 2022)
Type: Self-collection
Sample: Nasal swab
Tests for:
  • Influenza A
  • Influenza B
  • COVID-19 (Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Lambda, Mu, Omicron variants)
Results timeline: Within 1 to 2 business days
Accuracy: Accuracy data not available
Accepts insurance: Yes
Physician follow up: Yes
Prescriptions offered: May be available from follow-up physician

The Labcorp OnDemand COVID-19 + Flu home collection kit is known as an NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test), also known as an RT-PCR test. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are considered the gold standard by the CDC for diagnosing COVID-19 because of their sensitivity and specificity. This test checks for genetic material produced by viruses that cause different respiratory infections, including SARS-CoV-2, influenza A, and influenza B, and will determine if you are currently infected with any of these viruses.

COVID-19 and the flu often share similar symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, muscle and body aches, fatigue, and shortness of breath. If you have cold-like symptoms, you can test for multiple viruses with this single test.

You should not get this test if you:

  • Currently have severe symptoms that limit your daily activities. Seek medical attention right away if this is the case.
  • You’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in the last three months. Speak with your healthcare provider prior to getting tested.
What’s great about Labcorp’s flu test? What’s not so great?
  • Flu and COVID-19 testing in one
  • High standard PCR testing
  • Physician follow-up available
  • Recent prior infections can cause inaccurate results
  • New product with limited availability

Why is LabCorp’s at-home flu test the best for flu and COVID-19?

LabCorp offers the only at-home flu test, which also tests for COVID-19 as symptoms can be similar.

Who should use LabCorp’s at-home flu test?

Anyone concerned about exposure to flu or COVID-19.

Interpreting At-Home Test Results

For a self-collection molecular test, the test report will show whether your sample was positive, negative, or inconclusive after being analyzed by the lab.

If your test involves checking for influenza and other viruses, such as the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the test report should clearly show the results for each separate virus.

Interpreting the test result requires considering more than just whether it was positive or negative. Your symptoms, the prevalence of seasonal flu in your community, and the type of test are all factors that can influence whether your result actually reflects whether or not you have the flu.

A positive test result suggests, but does not definitively prove, that you have an influenza infection. If your test result is positive, you should contact your doctor to ask about next steps in your care. False positives, which show a positive result when you aren’t actually infected, can occur but are uncommon.

A negative test result means that the influenza virus was not present in the sample provided. However, it is important to consider whether the result could be a false negative, which means that you are infected even though the test found no sign of an influenza virus. False negatives are much more common with rapid antigen tests than with molecular tests.

In order to evaluate the accuracy of your at-home test and to understand its significance for your overall health, you should contact your doctor and review your symptoms and test result.

Are test results accurate?

At-home influenza tests are widely used to identify infections, but, like any medical test, not 100% accurate. Results are dependent on the following factors:

  • Type of test: Depending on the reagents in the test kit, some tests may be more likely to produce inaccurate results. Generally, rapid antigen tests have a higher risk of false negatives than molecular tests.
  • Extent of seasonal flu in your community: Your chances of exposure to an influenza virus are higher when the flu is widespread in your area. As a result, false positive results happen more often if community flu transmission is low, whereas false negative results occur more frequently when community spread is high.
  • Test timing: Tests are more likely to correctly detect an infection if your test sample is taken during the first two to four days after you notice the signs and symptoms of flu infection. This is when the virus is present in higher amounts. After this point, you may test negative even if you have been infected.
  • Proper test sample collection and handling: A test cannot return an accurate result if the test sample is not properly collected and properly prepared for testing. It is important to only provide the kind of sample stipulated in at-home test instructions. You must also be careful to handle the sample and carry out the test as directed by the test kit instructions. If a laboratory analyzes your self-collection test, the laboratory professionals will follow required procedures to ensure the integrity of the test sample and accuracy of the test result.
  • Certain flu vaccines: If you receive a type of flu vaccine that has a weakened version of the virus, it may cause a positive result on a RT-PCR test taken within a week after vaccination. This is a false positive result because the vaccine does not cause a true viral infection.

Since multiple factors can be involved in interpreting the accuracy of influenza testing, it is best to discuss your at-home flu test result with a doctor who can explain how these factors apply in the context of your specific test outcome.

Do I need follow-up tests?

The need for follow-up tests depends on your test result, your symptoms, and your overall health.

If you have a positive test result and only mild flu symptoms, you may not need any further testing. However, if you have more serious symptoms or are at risk of developing complications from influenza, the doctor may want to do repeat flu tests, blood tests, or perform examinations of your lung function.

If you have a negative test result but have symptoms of the flu, you may need to have follow-up with another flu test to confirm that you don’t actually have influenza. For example, a negative rapid antigen test may need to be confirmed with a molecular test that is conducted in a laboratory.

Questions for your doctor after at-home flu testing

If you’ve 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?

Sources

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