NC DPH Memo Addresses Limitations of Rapid Flu Tests

State Epidemiologist Megan Davies, MD, is reminding North Carolina physicians and other health care providers that rapid influenza diagnostic tests cannot rule out influenza infection, and that treatment decisions should be based on clinical and epidemiologic information, rather than on test results.  In a memo sent February 15, 2011, Dr. Davies said that the Division of Public Health had received reports of fatal influenza cases in which antiviral medications were delayed or withheld following false negative rapid influenza diagnostic test results. 

According to Dr. Davies, antiviral treatment of hospital patients can reduce severity, even when started more than 48 hours after onset of illness.  Antiviral treatment is recommended as early as possible for patients with suspected or confirmed influenza (regardless of vaccination status) who:

  • are hospitalized;
  • have severe, complicated or progressive illness; or
  • are at a higher risk for complications (e.g. persons with certain chronic medical conditions, persons 65 or older, children younger than 2 years, and pregnant or postpartum women.

Dr. Davies and State Health Director Jeffrey P. Engel, MD stress that vaccination is the best way to prevent flu.  Additional guidance and information about influenza activity in North Carolina can be found at

Influenza remained widespread across the state, according to the latest Influenza Summary Report (2-17-10).  One pediatric and two adult flu-associated deaths were reported for the week ending February 12, 2010, but the percentage of outpatient visits due to ILI decreased after four weeks of steep increase.  Since late December, the state has recorded 14 deaths from flu, including six among children. NC DPH says the vast majority of deaths involved individuals who were not vaccinated.

Click here to read the memo from Dr. Davies.


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