As the country faces a rise in COVID, flu and RSV, there is a testing kit that the FDA authorized in May that is one swab for all three viruses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there have been at least 15 million reported flu-like illnesses, 150,000 hospitalizations and 9,300 deaths from flu this season. Since last week, there’s been a 15% increase in total illnesses and the number of people in the hospital. Though there’s increased spread of COVID-19 concentrated in the Northeast and California, national numbers are relatively stable.
GMA medical contributor Dr. Darien Sutton joins “Good Morning America” to break down the tool to battle against this season’s “tripledemic.”
"The FDA is trying to improve access to PCR testing ... so they've authorized a three-in-one test that tests for COVID, RSV and the flu with one swab," Sutton said.
How the test works
“With the spike in RSV cases over the last year, the continued presence of COVID-19, and the ever-present threat of flu, testing for all three viruses at once enables individuals and physicians to quickly identify the illness and determine the appropriate treatment,” Dr. Brian Caveney, chief medical officer and president of Labcorp Diagnostics wrote in a press release in part of a statement.
Labcorp’s combined home collection kit, called The Pixel, is for COVID, flu and RSV only. The FDA authorized the emergency use of the kits “for the detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, influenza A and/or influenza B, and RSV, not for any other viruses or pathogens,” according to a Labcorp press release.
Unfortunately, results don’t come in 15 minutes like a rapid antigen test, but the results are processed in a lab, using the amplification process of PCR, so the results may be more accurate. Potential test-takers go to a website and fill out a questionnaire. If they meet the criteria, they are sent the kit via overnight service. The user then swabs their nose to collect a sample and sends the kit back to Labcorp for testing. Results take one to two days after the samples have arrived back at the lab, so it takes about three to five days at the earliest to receive final results.
The kit is available for use by individuals age 2 and older, without the need for a prescription, according to the press release. The test also has no out-of-pocket cost for those with insurance and who meet the criteria in the questionnaire.
For those who are uninsured, it runs $169.
Similar tests are available from urgent care and other health care providers and you can get your results quicker. Quick results may be more useful because if you are positive for COVID-19 or the flu, treatments like Paxlovid or Tamiflu have to be taken within a few days after symptoms appear.
Should you take this test before holiday gatherings?
The Pixel three-in-one test is not for anyone looking to get rapid test results or people who may be at high risk for the three viruses and who are already experiencing flu-like symptoms.
"If you're high risk, then you might be a candidate for interventions, for example, like Paxlovid," Sutton said. "If you're lower risk and you have mild to no symptoms, then I think that this is an option to take but again, if you're going to go to an event or holiday party, my recommendation is use those rapid tests as close as possible to that event to increase the level of accuracy and if you want to add an extra layer of protection a couple of days before, you can get the PCR tests."
Experts also say testing should not replace but can supplement other precautionary measures.
"Knowing your results early are really important depending on your risks, and if you're lower risk and you have symptoms, wearing a mask [can help] to prevent transmission, regardless of your test results," Sutton added.
Treatment has the best outcomes with early identification. A new study found that Paxlovid lowered the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization or death by 44% in a highly vaccinated group of U.S. adults over the age of 50. Best results are determined if started within the first three to five days after symptom onset.