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A closer look at the new at-home flu and COVID test

In 30 minutes you'll find out if those respiratory symptoms are from COVID, or the flu, type A or type B.

NEW ORLEANS — You may have heard that recently the FDA gave emergency use authorization for the first over-the-counter, at-home kit that can detect two types of flu and COVID.

So, how does it work and why can this test can be useful.

The new combination test will be one you can take in the privacy of your home. In 30 minutes, you will find out if those respiratory symptoms are from COVID, or the flu; type A or B. 

"I think that this is really a breakthrough. So, if you've got these home kits that will tell you which one you've got, you can call up your doctor and you can get a prescription," Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Brobson Lutz said. "It really, really speeds up the process."

Dr. Lutz said knowing early is important because the antiviral medications, like Paxlovid for COVID and Tamiflu for influenza, need to be taken early to be be effective.

And the new test is a P.C.R. test, like the ones run by labs.

"This P.C.R. technology that's in this kit, is just extremely sensitive as long as the specimen is collected correctly," said Dr. Lutz. 

This means it could find a positive earlier on, before the virus replicates to a high-load level. Dr. Lucio Miele said there is another advantage for people who have pre-existing conditions that put them at high risk for severe cases.

"If you have symptoms that are mild, but you're positive, you do need to seek medical attention right away, in order to avoid the more serious outcomes," said Dr. Miele, professor and department head, LSU School of Medicine, department of genetics and assistant dean for translational sciences. 

It will also let you know to isolate early on from high-risk people, but both doctors are concerned that home testing means health officials won't know what viruses are circulating so the genetics can be studied and updated vaccines can be made.

“We don't want to be blindsided, flying blind, and be blindsided by the next nasty variant of, you know, one of the other viruses,” said Dr. Miele.

And even more important to knowing early on, doctors are learning that natural immunity from COVID is not like natural immunity from other viruses.

“The more times you're  with COVID, if you're not vaccinated, it gets more serious with time,” said Dr. Miele.

He said we are still learning just how different COVID is.

You do not need a prescription for the test kit, but so far we could not find any local, independent pharmacies that had gotten it yet.

Right now, the state and city health departments do not plan to distribute the test.

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