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Rapid Flu Test: What You Need To Know

February 17, 2014, 6:15 PM by Brittany Larson

Rapid Flu Test: What You Need To Know
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

"Influenza, it affects everything with your body. It's so hard to overcome when it hits you hard," Shawna Garner said.

Shawna Garner has had her fair share of illnesses this winter.

"I've had three sinus infections just in 2014," Garner said.

She was prescribed two different antibiotics, but that didn't seem to cure what ailed her.  A rapid flu test showed she also had the flu virus, which doesn't respond to antibiotics. By the time she was tested, it was too late for antivirals so she simply had to suffer through it.

"Like a horrible head cold, a lot of night sweats, chills.  I did have some nausea with it.  Just a lot of body aches and pains," Garner said.

Garner isn't alone. To date, nearly 23,000 South Dakotans have received the rapid flu test.

"The rapid antigen test uses nasal secretions to detect either influenza A, or B virus," Center for Family Medicine Dr. Zach Nolz said.

It can take anywhere between 15 minutes to two hours to get the test back.  Though Garner's test was positive, research shows the more flu activity circulating, the less likely it is that the rapid test will test positive.

"The sensitivity of it is actually kind of low. It's only about 63 percent. So if we had 100 people with the influenza virus, we'd usually only be able to pick up 63 of those with the test," Nolz said.

Because the testing is not 100 percent accurate, state health official advise doctors to also look out for symptoms of the virus to determine whether a patient could benefit from antiviral treatment, regardless of the rapid flu test results.

"The times that we're concerned are people who are high risk for developing a secondary bacterial infection that can be detrimental to them," Nolz said.

Garner admits that until she fell ill with the flu and the secondary sinus infection, she hadn't really given a flu shot serious consideration.

"My children have never done the flu shot.  I think after this episode, I'm guessing I will be getting the flu shot because It's just too much to handle," Garner said.

There are more accurate tests for the flu, including something known as a PCR and viral cultures. But getting the results on those takes more time and are more expensive, so at this point, health officials say the rapid flu test, while not perfect, is the best they have.

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