What Is the Combined Nasal Test for Flu and COVID-19?

Everything you need to know about this winter's potential "twindemic" and the new multiplex Coronavirus and influeza nasal swab test

Coronavirus and Influeza Multiplex TestA new test can identify both respiratory viruses at the same time.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still on an upward trend in much of the US, flu season looks different this year. "Double whammy" and "twindemic" have been used to describe the tsunami of the two respiratory viruses that first responders are bracing themselves for this winter. Many endocrine conditions such as diabetes and obesity are in the high-risk category for severe complications from the Coronavirus and influenza. This makes it more critical than ever to get a flu vaccine and take measures to decrease your risk of catching and spreading COVID-19.

Even though it won’t protect against the Coronavirus, the flu vaccine adds layer of protection to keep you as healthy as possible this winter, because the last thing you want would be to catch COVID-19 when you're already compromised with the flu.

If you do come down with symptoms of cough, fever, and body aches, there’s now a simultaneous test available to determine whether it’s COVID-19, influenza, or neither one. The new test can quickly arrive at the cause of your sickness to help you get the treatment you need ASAP. Just like the Coronavirus swab test, which goes high up into your nasal passage to collect samples, the new multiplex test is performed the same way. The CDC, LabCorp, and Roche have all announced FDA-approved multiplex tests currently rolling out to health care providers nationwide in time for this year's flu season.

According to LabCorp, the new multiplex test simultaneously tests for multiple major respiratory viruses including COVID-19 and many common strains of influenza. These tests will soon be available at hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other health care providers, though they're limited at this time because they're so new. As a result, pricing is also still being determined. If you’re showing symptoms that could be COVID-19 or the flu, ask your health care provider if the multiplex test is available and what the cost would be on your health care plan. Because flu and Coronavirus symptoms are similar, the multiplex tests are a chance to determine your medical needs more quickly than if you had to take multiple tests over more than one medical visit.

Understandably, the heightened levels of contagion nationwide can cause apprehension about visiting anywhere that could have a preponderance of germs. Remember that clinics and health care providers have many safety precautions in place, including social distancing, mask wearing, sanitizing, and limiting the number of people in waiting rooms before appointments.

Can you have the Coronavirus and the flu at the same time?

According to Kelly L. Moore, Associate Director of Immunization Education at the Immunization Action Coalition, it’s more important than ever to receive the flu vaccine as the best measure to prevent the spread of influenza viruses that sicken millions and kill thousands in the US each year.

“Influenza vaccination is the best and easiest way to cut your risk of becoming one of those people,” she says. “In fact, vaccination is more important than ever this year because, for the first time, we expect that influenza viruses will be circulating in tandem with the virus that causes COVID-19. It is possible to have the Coronavirus and influenza infections at the same time, and that's what we're hoping to prevent.”

Moore adds that because symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu can be similar, quarantine and isolation may be necessary while sorting out which virus a person may have. With health care systems likely to be slammed by COVID-19 patients this winter, a flu vaccine protects against another illness that could mean a visit to a clinic, emergency room, or hospital. Luckily, influenza vaccines are affordable, plentiful, and conveniently available. If you’ve never gotten a flu vaccine before, this is the year to start.

“The bottom line is that immunizers are preparing to vaccinate people safely. If you're concerned, call your pharmacist or clinic and inquire about their protocols and how to get vaccinated easily and affordably in your neighborhood,” she says. “Then go get your influenza vaccine. The benefits far outweigh the risks, and you won’t regret it.”

When will there be a vaccine for COVID-19?

What about headlines about a possible fast-track into production for the COVID-19 vaccine? Don’t expect it to be available to anyone but high-risk health care workers before 2021.

“Distribution will be managed by public health authorities due to the complexity of the distribution program, the necessity for two doses of vaccine within a month for each person, and the need to target vaccination initially to high priority recipients,” says Kelly. “It's reasonable to expect that most people will not have the opportunity to get to a COVID-19 vaccine series until next summer at the earliest.” One more reason to go out and get your flu vaccine right away, and to keep diligently following every precaution to reduce the risk and spread of both viruses this winter.

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