Why Are There No At-Home Flu Tests Like Covid Tests?

March 18, 2022


Janet O’Mahony, M.D., is a primary care doctor and a member of Mercy Personal Physicians Downtown in Baltimore, MD. Dr. O’Mahony serves and treats Downtown residents and families of Federal Hill, Canton, Fells Point, Baltimore Metro Center and the Mt. Vernon arts and cultural district. Dr. Mahony recently responded to a query from Health magazine regarding “Why don’t we have at-home flu tests like the COVID tests?” Here are her thoughts…

At home flu tests would be just as easy to perform as at home COVID tests. The problem with these is they have a limited shelf life, and they are expensive. I don’t stock them in my office for this reason. We don’t know in advance when (or if) flu season is going to hit, so it is hard to have them around at the right time and not have them go to waste because they went out of date. The pharmacy would have the same problem stocking them. They likely would not have them on the shelf until flu started to hit.

They could be helpful because it could eliminate the need to seek strep testing or antibiotics or even a chest x-ray in a patient with fever and respiratory symptoms who does not need to be hospitalized.  Without the rapid test, we make the diagnosis based on symptoms and what has been going around in the community.  For example, if my local ER (Emergency Room) is getting a bunch of positive flu tests then I know that flu is circulating and feel more comfortable diagnosing it.  A negative test would not completely rule out flu – just like a negative COVID test did not completely rule out COVID, but if someone in the household had a positive test it is suggestive that other sick members of the household likely have flu too.  You may still need medical advice or even an exam by a doctor but this may be able to be done virtually. Anti-flu therapies could be started sooner and may be more effective.

Ultimately, it may be cost-saving if it could prevent urgent care or ER visits, x-rays, and unnecessary antibiotics. 

--Janet O’Mahony, M.D., Mercy Personal Physicians Downtown

Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Dr. O’Mahony is an advocate for patient health and regularly contributes advice and feedback to media outlets, online resources and publications. She has been featured by Woman’s Day magazine Catholic Review and The Baltimore Sun on subjects including women’s health, heart disease, flu vaccine and sleeplessness.

About Mercy

Founded in 1874 in Downtown Baltimore by the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Medical Center is a 183-licensed bed, acute care, university-affiliated teaching hospital. Mercy has been recognized as a high-performing Maryland hospital (U.S. News & World Report); has achieved an overall 5-Star quality, safety, and patient experience rating (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services); is A-rated for Hospital Safety (Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade); and is certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a Magnet™ hospital. Mercy Health Services is a not-for-profit health system and the parent company of Mercy Medical Center and Mercy Personal Physicians.

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