There are so many similarities between the flu and the common cold sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two. So if the symptoms are similar, how do you know the difference to ensure you’re getting the best treatment?

What You Should Know About The Flu Virus

I’m not exactly sure why but one of the things that bugs me about flu season is when a friend, patient, or family member comes up to me and tells me that they have the flu. My first response to them is, how do you know you have the flu?  

Some of the responses that I have gotten are:

“This just feels different than the common cold.”

My doctor told me I had the flu.”

I read about the symptoms online.”  

My next response is, did you have a flu test? The answer is usually always no.

What’s Important About A Flu Test?

Having a flu test done can determine the correct route of treatment if that’s the direction you want to go.  For example, going to the doctor for cold/flu like symptoms and him telling you that you have the flu without doing a flu test can do more harm than good.  If the provider decides to start you on anti-viral medications to treat the flu they may be completely pointless without confirming you actually have the flu.  Your symptoms could be caused by bacteria and in that case, anti-viral medications won’t work.  Antibiotics would be the treatment of choice because those medications only work on bacteria.

The same could also be said for a provider treating your flu like symptoms with antibiotics when you actually have the flu.  Antibiotics will not work against the flu because it’s a virus, not a bacteria.  The worst part about being prescribed antibiotics when you actually have a viral infection is that it helps contribute to antibiotic resistance.  Antibiotics should only be used in scenarios where they are absolutely necessary.  Your body and the rest of the world will thank you in the long run.

What Is The Flu Test?

Most types of flu tests done are quick, are not that invasive, and can give you results within sixty minutes.  They also have a high accuracy rate of around ninety to ninety-five percent.  The picture to the right is a rapid flu test.  It’s a small cotton tip applicator. The test is performed by having you lay and tilt your head slightly up.  The cotton tip applicator glides up your nostrils into your sinuses for a few seconds and then you’re done.  When I said that the flu test is not that invasive, I’m not going to lie to you, it is a little uncomfortable.  The unfamiliarity of having something pushed deep into your sinuses will give you a eye watering, nose burning, feel like you have to sneeze type of sensation.  It’s quick however, and then you’re done.

Some types of flu tests will be done from having you cough your mucous into a specimen collection cup then a test will be run from your sputum.  Sometimes rapid influenza tests come back negative and a provider will want further testing done.  In these cases, your specimen will be put in a viral culture petri dish to see what grows and then will be tested.  Blood tests for influenza are not performed.

What Does A Positive Flu Test Mean?

Well that’s up to you and your provider.  If you have seen your provider within the first seventy-two hours after the onset of symptoms you have the option of being placed on anti-viral medications.  Research shows that there is little benefit to taking medications for the flu if you have had your symptoms for longer than three days.   As it is, current reviews of research show that taking anti-viral medications for the flu will only help reduce your symptoms by about one day.

Have you ever had a flu test before?  If so, what kind did you have and what did you think about it?  Have you ever taken anti-viral medications for the flu?  Let me know your thoughts.