FDA: You Can Now Test for COVID, Flu, and RSV at Home

man looking at nasal swab while standing in bathroom

Willie B. Thomas / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • A new test you take at home and mail to a lab can let you and your doctor know if you have COVID-19, the flu, or RSV.
  • This combination test can help people get the appropriate treatment faster.
  • Experts say that while the test is helpful, even faster results are important.

A single nasal swab can now be used to detect COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). And you can administer the test yourself at home.

The Pixel by Labcorp COVID-19+Flu+RSV Test Home Collection Kit earned emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week. It will be available beginning in June online through Labcorp OnDemand without a prescription.

“While the FDA has now authorized many COVID-19 tests without a prescription, this is the first test authorized for flu and RSV, along with COVID-19, where an individual can self-identify their need for a test, order it, collect their sample and send it to the lab for testing, without consulting a health care professional,” Jeff Shuren, MD, JD, director of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.

The authorization comes as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in many parts of the country. While flu season usually tapers off in May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported an uptick in cases. 

RSV can circulate any time of the year.

Why the Test Matters

The three viruses can have similar symptoms, including fever, cough, and congestion. It’s possible for people to clear any of the viruses on their own. But if treatment is needed, each illness requires a different approach. That’s why knowing which one you have matters.

“Medication, if needed, is different for all three viruses, so being able to differentiate is important,” Michael Daignault, MD, an emergency room physician in Los Angeles and chief medical advisor for COVID-19 testing company Reliant Health Services, told Verywell.

How the Test Works

The Labcorp test is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. This means it’s analyzed using a laboratory technique that looks for the genetic material in a sample.

Once you order the test, it will arrive via FedEx the next day. After collecting a sample, you mail it back in prepaid envelope to Labcorp for analysis. Results are displayed in an online portal a day or two after the company receives the swab.

Leana Wen, MD, MPH, an emergency physician and professor of health management and policy at George Washington University in Washington, DC, told Verywell the test is a step in the right direction, but results will need to get faster.

“Having a single test—rather than three separate tests—for COVID-19, flu, and RSV will help, but ideally, the result will come back within minutes, rather than waiting a day or two,” she said.

Who Is the Test For?

Labcorp’s test is authorized for people aged 2 and older.

While acknowledging people can get faster results by getting tested for COVID-19, flu, and RSV at an urgent care clinic or hospital, Daignault said an at-home testing option can help keep viruses contained.

“There is utility to this test for people who are too ill to leave their home or are mildly ill and are worried that they could infect others by going to the doctor’s office or emergency room,” he said.

Plus, during COVID surges, both testing centers and urgent care clinics tend to book up.

“Even a home test that has to be mailed back might be faster if there’s another surge of cases,” Daignault said.

If have have difficulty breathing, do not wait to take a test or for test results. Call a doctor or 911.

The test costs $169 but is expected to be free for people who provide their health insurance information when submitting the test, according to Labcorp.

If you test positive, expect a call from a doctor unaffiliated with the company on next steps, such as quarantining and possible medication. 

Dr. Daignault says one other advantage to the test is that since it is a PCR test, any positive results will be reported to a public health department, which adds to the data on case counts in the U.S. At the moment the number of cases counted by public health departments is lower than the actual number of cases because so many people are taking rapid antigen tests at home which don’t have to be reported to public health departments.

What This Means For You

COVID-19, flu, and RSV are viruses that can have similar symptoms. Taking a test to learn which virus you have can help determine what sort of treatment you might need. Plus, because the new test is a PCR test, positive results will be reported to a public health department. This helps surveillance teams more accurately monitor viruses in the United States.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID data tracker weekly review. Interpretive summary for May 20, 2022. It’s time for a boost.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Weekly U.S. influenza surveillance report.

  3. UMass Chan Medical School. What’s the difference between a PCR and antigen COVID-19 test? A molecular biologist explains.

By Fran Kritz
Fran Kritz is a freelance healthcare reporter with a focus on consumer health and health policy. She is a former staff writer for Forbes Magazine and U.S. News and World Report.