When you've got a fever, cough, runny nose, or other respiratory symptoms, it can be hard to tell if you have COVID-19, influenza (the flu), or another infection. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.
Typically, flu testing happens at a healthcare provider's office, a clinic, urgent care, or a hospital. But testing for respiratory viruses at home has gotten a lot easier. In February 2023, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first at-home flu test to detect COVID-19, influenza A, and influenza B.
This three-virus test is the only over-the-counter (OTC) flu test available for use at home to detect the flu. The influenza test kit is available on the manufacturer's website. The test kit delivers results within 30 minutes.
This article will describe where to buy at-home flu tests, the testing process and what the results mean, and the test cost and whether it is covered by health insurance.
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When to Take an At-Home Flu Test
If you’re feeling sick with symptoms of a cold, flu, or COVID-19, it might be a good idea to take a flu test and a COVID-19 OTC test to find out what is causing your infection so you can get the right treatment and avoid spreading the infection.
This is especially important if you or anyone you’re in regular contact with is in a high-risk group. People in high-risk groups are have an increased likelihood of developing severe complications from respiratory infections like flu and COVID-19. High-risk groups include:
- Young children
- People age 65 and older
- Pregnant people
- People who are immunocompromised
- People with certain co-occurring medical conditions
People who catch influenza or COVID-19 may have no symptoms, only mild symptoms, or serious symptoms. These infections can cause fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, nasal congestion, fatigue, aches and pains, and headaches, among many other symptoms. Symptoms alone can’t differentiate the flu from COVID-19.
An OTC test can detect if you have flu or COVID-19, which have different incubation and contagious periods. Getting an answer quickly in your home can prevent you from transmitting the virus before or after symptoms appear.
COVID-19 can take longer to show symptoms than the flu, as follows:
- Flu symptoms start anywhere from one to four days after infection.
- COVID-19 symptoms may appear between two to five days and up to 14 days after infection.
COVID-19 also can be transmitted for a longer time than the flu, as follows:
- Flu can be transmitted about one day before having symptoms, and you're usually most contagious in the first three to four days.
- COVID-19 can be transmitted for two to three days before symptoms appear. You can transmit the virus even if you never have symptoms and can keep transmitting the virus for eight or more days after getting sick.
While the Lucira at-home flu test kit also tests for COVID-19, OTC COVID-19 test kits do not test for the flu but can help you rule out COVID-19.
Using the COVID-19 test kits has become routine for many people. The kits can help confirm your diagnosis, giving you an idea of how long to stay home when sick and whether you should seek advice about antiviral treatments if you have a COVID-19 infection.
Where Do You Buy an At-Home Flu Test?
You can buy the Lucira COVID-19 & Flu Home Test kit on the manufacturer’s website, Lucira Health.
Due to funding issues, the company hasn't shared plans to manufacture more tests or to roll them out to retail stores. It does hope to make the test widely available once additional funding or partnerships are secured.
At-Home Flu Test Cost
The at-home flu test from Lucira purchased through the website costs $34.99 for one single-use test. The list price is $68.
Unlike programs that offer free COVID-19 tests out or cover them by insurance, there's no information about health insurance reimbursements for these at-home flu tests. Because they also test for COVID-19, these tests may be covered under private insurance reimbursement regulations, but that may be capped at $12 apiece, not enough to cover the full cost of the Lucira test kit. Check with your insurance provider regarding coverage.
A flu test ordered by a healthcare provider from a clinic may be paid for by health insurance if you have it. Out of pocket, a flu test may cost over $100 at a pharmacy or urgent care clinic.
At-Home Flu Test Instructions
The Lucira COVID-19 & Flu Home Test uses swab samples from inside the nose. People over 14 years old can swab themselves, and those between 2 and 14 will need the help of an adult.
After swabbing, place the vial in the test unit. In 30 minutes, test unit will light up with a positive or negative result.
Is There a Saliva Test?
There is no at-home flu test that uses saliva. The Lucira test is the only approved at-home flu test. It uses a nasal swab, like the COVID-19 test kits.
Steps to take the combined flu and COVID-19 at-home test include:
- Open the test unit, insert the batteries, and then open the sample vial pouch and seal.
- Put the vial into the test unit but don’t push it down.
- Swab both nostrils five times.
- Put the swab in the vial and swirl it around 15 times.
- Remove and toss the swab.
- Snap the vial cap closed and push the vial down into the test unit.
- While the test runs, the ready light will blink to confirm the sample is processing. If it doesn’t start blinking within five seconds, push the vial down again more firmly.
- After testing, remove the battery and place the used test into the waste bag. Dispose of all the testing materials.
At-Home Flu Test Results
In 30 minutes or less, the ready light turns off, and the test unit shows a light on the right for positive or on the left for negative. There’s a light for the three viruses: influenza A, influenza B, and COVID-19.
Positive and negative lights flash if the results are invalid. This can show up for one or more viruses, but any invalid result invalidates the entire test.
Positive results may show up before the 30-minute time frame is up and can be positive for more than one virus.
In people experiencing symptoms of a respiratory virus, the at-home flu and COVID-19 test is accurate.
In trials, it was able to identify:
- 99.3% of negative and 90% of positive Influenza A samples
- 100% of negative and 88.3% of positive COVID-19 samples
- 99.9% of negative influenza B samples
At the time of FDA testing of the at-home flu and COVID-19 test kit, there weren’t enough cases of influenza B available for a real-life study, but tests in the lab showed that the kit could detect the virus.
As with any test, there can be false negatives (when the test result is negative but you have the condition) and false positives (when the test result is positive but you don't have the condition). If you get a negative test but continue to have symptoms, contact a healthcare provider.
Treatment After a Positive At-Home Flu Test
If your test is positive for flu or COVID-19, let a healthcare provider know. They can advise you on managing your symptoms and let you know if you qualify for antiviral medications.
Medical treatments called antivirals can help you fight off the flu or COVID-19. They can make you better faster and help prevent serious complications.
If you have the flu, you’ll need to stay away from other people until a full day after your fever is gone without a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen). Most people are sick with the flu for three to seven days. For example, if your fever lasts three days, you must stay home for four.
If you have COVID-19, try to quarantine until you’ve had two negative antigen tests (OTC COVID-19 tests) two days in a row.
The FDA has approved an over-the-counter (OTC) flu test developed by Lucira Health. It can detect influenza A, influenza B, and COVID-19. You can buy the combined OTC test for about $35 to $68 for a single-use kit. It uses a nasal swab and provides results in 30 minutes.
You might consider taking a flu test if you feel sick or have been exposed to someone who is ill. People in high-risk groups should pay special attention to their exposure. These groups include young children, older adults, pregnant people, immunocompromised individuals, and people with co-occurring medical conditions.
You can buy the at-home flu test kit on the manufacturer's website. The company has yet to announce plans to make it available in retail stores. Health insurance reimbursement information is not yet available.
Anyone over age 2 can use the Lucira Health OTC flu test. To take the test, collect a nasal swab and swirl it in the test vial. The test will display a positive or negative readout for influenza A, influenza B, and COVID-19.
Let a healthcare provider know if you're positive for influenza or COVID-19. They can determine if you could benefit from medicines to fight the virus, called antivirals.