(NEXSTAR) – The country seems to be collectively battling a host of viruses right now, with influenza ripping through communities and RSV crowding hospitals with sick, young patients.
So if you’re one of the many sick Americans right now and have already tested negative for COVID-19, you may be wondering what exactly you have – is it the flu, RSV or just a common cold?
Unfortunately, nailing down a test for influenza and RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is not quite as convenient as the COVID-19 rapid test, but there are still a number of options. RSV is a common cause of cold-like symptoms that can be serious for infants and the elderly.
“There are currently no fully at-home tests for flu or RSV,” James McKinney, spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told Nexstar.
This is unfortunate for people who come down with influenza, as the existing antiviral drugs work best when started early, one or two days after symptoms begin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While you may not be able to get the results at home, there is an at-home testing kit from labcorp the FDA approved under an emergency use authorization earlier this year. You can test for COVID-19, flu and RSV by self-swabbing and sending the kit to a laboratory for analysis. For those who aren’t insured or don’t meet the criteria for the $0 upfront cost option, the price is a hefty $169.
There are also a “handful of home collection tests for flu/COVID,” if not RSV, according to McKinney. CVS also offers in-store testing for the flu at their Minute Clinic locations.
If you’re determined to figure out what you have after experiencing symptoms, healthcare providers at hospitals and urgent care centers are able to test for both influenza and RSV.
‘Tripledemic’ wallops the US
The US flu season keeps getting worse as healthcare providers are already scrambling to treat waves of RSV patients – many of them pediatric cases – who require hospitalization.
While the CDC said Monday that there may be reason to hope that RSV cases are leveling off in parts of the country, the same can’t be said for the flu.
Health officials said Friday that 7.5% of outpatient medical visits last week were due to flu-like illnesses. That’s as high as the peak of the 2017-18 flu season and higher than any season since.
“Turns out that the cold weather the gathering indoors, all of that is good for respiratory viruses and bad for symptoms,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a media briefing on Monday. “But what I would say is, you know, there are other pathogens out there, we want to make sure that we are on top of the ones that people can do something about that is prevention with vaccines, flu and COVID, for sure. And then intervention with antivirals, again, influenza and COVID.”
The annual winter flu season usually doesn’t get going until December or January, but this one began early and has been complicated by the simultaneous spread of other viruses.
The measure of traffic in doctor’s offices is based on reports of symptoms like coughs and sore throats, not on lab-confirmed diagnoses. So it may include other respiratory illnesses.
CDC officials estimate that there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from the flu this year, including 14 pediatric deaths.
Dr. Walensky also addressed COVID-19, which has so far not seen the abnormally high infection rate, but is starting to tick higher.
“In the past week, we’ve started to see the unfortunate and expected rise of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationally after the Thanksgiving holiday,” Walensky said. “This rise in cases and hospitalizations is especially worrisome as we move into the winter months when more people are assembling indoors with less ventilation.”