The flu is an infection caused by the influenza virus. The infection can look and feel like a cold, because the symptoms are very similar; a sore throat and runny nose. Often the symptoms of the flu are fever, sore throat, and whole-body aching, weakness and head and nasal congestion.1,2 This makes it very hard to tell the difference between a viral and a bacterial infection.

The flu can make you feel miserable for up to two weeks, but for some the flu can be very dangerous. High-risk individuals include: the very young, the very old, pregnant women, individuals with preexisting conditions and anyone who has a compromised immune system. If not treated, the flu can cause serious illness in these patients. The best way to prevent getting the flu, is to get vaccinated, avoid contact with people who have the flu and washing your hands with soap and water.2 The flu season runs from October until May, but the peak time is between December and March.

Why get tested for the flu:

  • Can’t tell whether it’s a cold or the flu
  • To get the right prescription—antibiotics won’t cure a virus
  • Flu treatments can reduce the length and discomfort caused by the flu
  • To reduce the amount of missed work or school
  • To prevent flu-related hospitalizations

How do I know if I have the flu or a bacterial infection?

So you might ask, “How do I know if I have the flu or a bacterial infection?” The only sure way to tell whether you have the flu is to get tested. If you have the flu, your doctor can prescribe medicines that can help you feel better faster. It’s also important to know if you have the flu if you’re pregnant or have a weak immune system, because it can be more dangerous.

Quest Diagnostics has a molecular test which can determine if the flu is present. This is important information to have because the treatment for bacterial infection is different than the treatment for a flu virus. Ask your doctor about testing for the flu and if your doctor agrees that testing is right for you, ask about the molecular flu test. The molecular test can determine presence of flu almost 100% of the time. If you test negative with a rapid test done in your physician’s office, and the doctor still suspects flu, it is worth testing with the molecular test. Accuracy in diagnosing the flu is the key to treating it appropriately.

Flu viruses can be treated early in the infection with antiviral therapy, and should not be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics will only work if you have a bacterial infection; therefore, it is important to know which infection you actually have to get the right treatment.

The type of flu virus can change from year to year. You can visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website for up-to-date information on what the flu situation is for this year. For additional information on what’s happening in your state please visit https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/fluview/main.html.

If you are a physician please visit our Digital Engagement Center (no key code required) for additional testing information https://questdiagnosticsresources.com/molecular.

References:
1. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 2016.
2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.
3. Rapid diagnostic testing for influenza: information for clinical laboratory directors. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/diagnosis/rapidlab.htm.