From November through March, physicians inevitably see an uptick of sick patients with flulike symptoms. But, without accurate testing, it can be difficult to diagnose whether patients’ symptoms are flu or signs of another respiratory illness. The more information providers have upfront about their patients’ symptoms, the faster they can diagnose and treat the illness (reducing unnecessary or wrong antibiotic prescriptions), and isolate patients or release them to an urgent care center if necessary. Today, rapid tests are available that can detect the presence of influenza A and B virus in a patient sample within 10 minutes.


About the test

CLIA-waived (and some non-waived), rapid influenza tests require only a few basic steps to complete with a nasal swab, nasopharyngeal swab or nasal wash. When using certain test brands, a single specimen collection (nasopharyngeal swab or nasal wash)can be used to test for both flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). A nasal swab and/or nasal wash is said to be more comfortable for patients than a nasopharyngeal swab. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) preferred specimen type also includes nasopharyngeal swabs, which reportedly provide higher quantities of detectable virus. Certain rapid influenza tests may be stored at room temperature for up to 24 months from the date of manufacture. The tests are considered relatively accurate compared with viral cell culture.


How to sell it

Doctors generally order more flu tests from early October through March. Distributor sales reps will find the greatest selling opportunities among pediatricians, internists, general practitioners and family practitioners. Physicians working at emergency and urgent care centers also are likely customers, as well as hospital physicians and long-term care practitioners. Distributor reps should rely on several qualifying leads to introduce their customers to rapid flu tests, including the following:

• “What CLIA-waived test do you currently use at the office?”

• “When you see a patient with flu-like symptoms, how do you make your diagnosis?”

• “How do you know when influenza breaks out in your area?” (Surveillance data can sometimes be delayed in getting published.)

• “How do you determine when to prescribe antiviral therapies, such as Tamiflu® or Relenza®?” (Both therapies are believed to be more effective when used within the first 48 hours of symptoms. By accurately diagnosing influenza, the doctor can avoid using expensive antiviral treatments for non-viral infections.)

• “Are you concerned about reducing the inappropriate use of antibiotics?”


Common objections

Physicians who object to rapid influenza tests often lack enough information to evaluate them. Distributor reps can expect to hear a few objections to the tests, including the following:

• “Why is it necessary to test for flu?” (Your response: “New pathogens that mimic flu symptoms constantly emerge. Immediate diagnosis of flu helps the physician provide appropriate treatment, reducing the duration and severity of the illness and minimizing its spread.”)

• “If we perform tests at a central location, we are concerned the test samples will not remain stable.” (Your response: “Samples can be stored at room temperature or refrigerated. Depending on the manufacturer, certain samples can be stored for eight hours or longer.”)

• “What if rapid influenza tests aren’t sensitive enough?” (Your response: “Certain rapid influenza tests offer up to 96 percent sensitivity for influenza A depending upon specimen type.”)


CPT code: 87804QW


Flu facts

Seasonal influenza, or flu, is a respiratory infection caused by a variety of viruses. Influenza infection compromises the mucociliary lining of the respiratory tract and makes individuals susceptible to such bacterial agents as Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumonia and Hemophilus influenza. Many people do not realize how serious and contagious flu is. But, several facts and statistics provided by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest otherwise:

  • As many as 5 to 20 percent of Americans contract the flu each flu season.
  • Over 200,000 people are hospitalized with seasonal flu-related complications.
  • Older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions are at high risk for complications.


Many experts believe the best way to prevent the spread of flu is by getting vaccinated. In addition, proper hand hygiene, infection control and isolating ill individuals can help contain the disease as well. And, rapid flu tests facilitate quick diagnosis, treatment and isolation of ill patients.

Editor’s note: Repertoire would like to acknowledge Sekisui Diagnostics for its assistance with this article.

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