October 2, 2009

Why isn’t every flu patient tested for H1N1 influenza?

Testing is advised mainly for patients hospitalized with influenza-like illness. Routinely testing outpatients for H1N1 is not advised.

“Because H1N1 is currently the major cause of fever and flu-like illness in the community, it is assumed that those patients presenting with such symptoms are infected with H1N1,” said Titus Daniels, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of Medicine.

The available rapid tests for influenza have a limited availability to detect H1N1, and can be falsely negative more than one-third of the time. Therefore, a negative test does not rule out infection with H1N1 influenza. Hence, the results of rapid influenza testing should not be a major determinate to decide who should be treated, he said.