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Rapid flu test has high false-negative results in children

  • Charles County,St Mary's County,Calvert County,Prince George's County,Anne Arundel County
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Lexington Park, MD - On Friday, Jan. 26, my 7-year-old son woke up with a 101 temperature, a headache, a stuffy nose, a sore throat and a cough. He had had the cough and stuffy nose for two days already, so I figured it was a cold. When he woke up with a fever, I took him to the pediatrician to rule out flu and strep throat.

Upon examination, his pediatrician, Amarpreet Dhillion, M.D. stated he looked like he had the flu with his feverish cheeks and his presenting symptoms. Of course, Dr. Dhillion performs a rapid flu test and rapid strep test. The strep comes back negative, as anticipated. But the flu test results stun both of us when it comes back negative. Dr. Dhillion explained to me that with influenza being so high and active right now, “a lot of kids are testing negative for the flu, when in fact, they do have the flu virus”

With the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine only being around 10 percent this flu season, it is very concerning to have a rapid flu test not register the flu, especially in children, where the flu can quickly turn fatal if not detected early enough. 

The CDC reports that this year with the flu being so prevalent the rapid flu test is not as accurate, compared to when flu activity is relatively low or within normal ranges. The CDC also states that even if a rapid flu test is negative, but you have symptoms of the flu, you should stay home, get plenty of rest, and drink plenty of fluids. The flu is one of the most contagious infectious diseases, reports the CDC. People can spread the flu 24 hours before the onset of symptoms and up to seven days after symptoms begin.  The CDC reminds everyone that the flu can be more serious or have higher incidents of complications in the elderly, children, pregnant women and those with immuno=compromised systems.

Symptoms of influenza include fever (usually above 102), chills, cough, sore throat, and congestion. In children, nausea and vomiting can be present, however usually there is no nausea and vomiting with influenza. Although there are medicines to help relieve the symptoms of the flu and reduce how long symptoms last, such as Tamiflu, the flu is a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics. Complications from the flu, according to the CDC, include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, and in some cases, death. So even though your rapid flu test may be negative, pay attention to your symptoms and get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and stay home.

The flu is spread through mucus droplets  through the air from coughing and sneezing. Proper hand washing and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze can help prevent the spread of influenza. It is also advised to use bleach or another anti viral/antibacterial cleaner to clean surfaces such as door knobs, counter tops, toilets and sinks. Do not share eating utensils or drink after others, as this can all spread the flu(even if symptoms are not yet being exhibited).

Contact Suzanne Copeland at s.copeland@thebaynet.com

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