How does the flu test work?

June 22, 2009 12:37:08 PM PDT
So if you think you might be feeling some of the early symptoms of the flu, how long will it take to confirm if you really are infected? We've heard so much about people calling to get the flu test that we wanted to show you how it works. [SWINE FLU: Symptoms, questions and answers and more]
[SCHOOL CLOSINGS: Map of closings related to swine flu]
[INTERACTIVE: Interactive guides to spread of swine flu]
[CHAT TRANSCRIPT: Questions answered by local expert]
[TRAVEL ALERT: What the CDC wants you to know ]

The rapid flu test is capable of detecting Type A and Type B Influenza. Dr. Robert Vanzant used the quick test for flu in January and February, but he never expected to bring it out again as we head into summer.

"This is not flu season, so if someone has the flu this time of year we have to consider swine flu," said Dr. Van Zant, a family practice physician.

He demonstrated the flu quick test for us by sticking a cotton swab up both nostrils.

"Both sides and it's gonna tickle. I'm digging for china here," said Dr. Vanzant.

After swabbing both nostrils, the swab sits in liquid for a minute, then the test strip goes in and results come back in 10 minutes.

"It's the same technology that's used for the home pregnancy test," said Dr. Vanzant.

Our test is negative, but other tests are examples of what a positive test looks like. The red lines indicate flu, but it doesn't tell you if it's H1N1, the swine flu.

"If it's a positive test it tells me we have to treat and I would start the medications either Tamiflu or Relenza right away," said Dr. Vanzant.

Positives are confirmed at the health department and suspected swine flu cases go on to the Centers for Disease Control.

As one family learned, it can surprise you. Andreas, 6, came in sick Thursday. He is from Mexico City and the family flew in Monday.

"Right now we just want to be sure everything was OK with him," said Andreas' father, Javier Allan Lozada.

His flu test was negative and he just has a cold. His parents were happy and so was his doctor.

"I am very relieved," said Dr. Laurel Tucker.

When we asked Andreas if he knew what the flu was, he laughed and said, "No."

Fortunately Andreas won't have to learn about the flu right now.

How can you tell if you have the flu or if it's allergies or a cold? Doctors said body aches and fever are the two big tip-off symptoms. With flu, you often have a very high fever and this flu also sometimes causes diarrhea and vomiting which is a little unusual for flu.

States will soon be able to do their own swine flu testing. The CDC is sending test kits to all the states. Right now, the tests are only being done by the CDC in Atlanta. Once states can do their own testing, we should be able to get results even quicker.

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