The First Test for COVID and Flu Is Here. But It's Tricky to Get One

Lucira health covid and flu test

Lucira Health

Key Takeaways

  • The FDA recently authorized the first at-home diagnostic test that can identify both COVID-19 and the flu.
  • At present, you can only purchase the test through the manufacturer’s website.
  • By identifying whether you have COVID-19 or the flu, the test helps you determine which treatment you’ll need.

It’s always been challenging to distinguish COVID-19 and the flu from one another because they share similar symptoms. Luckily, a new at-home diagnostic test offers a solution. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Lucira COVID-19 & Flu Home Test, the first over-the-counter test that can detect influenza A, influenza B, and SARS-CoV-2. It requires self-collected nasal swab samples and provides results in about 30 minutes.

If you test positive for either flu or COVID-19, you should take precautions to avoid spreading the disease. Because the test can identify which highly contagious virus is causing the infection, it’s easier for you to determine the appropriate medical care you need.

Purchase From the Manufacturer’s Website

At present, the test is only available on Lucira’s website. It’s unclear when it will be made more widely available, Akira A. Shishido, MD, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at Virginia Commonwealth University, told Verywell.

“In theory, now that it is authorized for over-the-counter use, it should eventually be available at any drug store, pharmacy, grocery store, etc.—wherever you might find COVID-19 tests,” he said.

However, Lucira Health—which also manufactured the very first FDA-authorized at-home test kit for COVID-19—filed for bankruptcy days before they received regulatory authorization. 

Given their bankruptcy, the roll-out of the new COVID-19 and flu test might be affected. According to the press release, the company is looking for a financial partner to resume the manufacturing and development of additional home diagnostic products.

How the Test Works

Like the free at-home rapid COVID-19 tests distributed by the federal government, the Lucira COVID-19 & Flu test relies on self-collected nasal swab samples. But they’re not the same kind of tests.

At-home COVID-19 tests are usually antigen tests, which means they detect the presence of a specific viral antigen. This new COVID-19 and flu test is a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), which detects nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, influenza A, and influenza B.

You swirl the sample swab in a vial and place it in the test unit. After about 30 minutes, the test kit will show whether you’re positive or negative for influenza A, influenza B, and COVID-19.

Among symptomatic individuals, the test correctly identified 99.3% of negative and 90% of positive influenza A samples, as well as 99.9% of negative influenza B samples. For COVID-19, it identified 100% of negative and 88.3% of positive COVID-19 samples.

NAAT is more sensitive than standard at-home tests and less likely to yield a false negative, Shishido said. The practice of testing twice for COVID-19 to improve testing accuracy generally applies to antigen tests.

"While there are always exceptions, repeat testing with this test while symptomatic is likely not necessary," he said.

Anjali Majumdar, MD, infectious disease physician at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, told Verywell that it may be more worthwhile to use the Lucira test as a confirmatory step when testing for COVID, like using it after getting a negative result from an antigen test.

Still, the FDA warns that there is a risk of false positive and false negative results, just like with any rapid diagnostic test.

How to Use the Results

The new COVID-19 and flu test is another tool that supports public health needs. Knowing that you are infected allows you to take precautions and reduce the spread of the virus. 

“If a person tests positive for influenza on this platform, it is important to follow proper isolation as outlined by CDC which is different from isolation procedures for COVID-19,” Majumdar said. “Generally, for influenza, it is advised that individuals stay home until at least 24 hours after their last fever.”

Aside from identifying which virus you have, Andy Pekosz, PhD, a virologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Response, told Verywell that the other benefit of the test is knowing which antiviral you need.

“There are different antivirals for COVID and for influenza, and this test should allow you to determine which one you should get,” he said. “This is especially important for the elderly and people with preexisting conditions that make them more susceptible to severe disease.”

If you test negative for both COVID-19 and the flu but continue to have symptoms, you still might have a respiratory infection. Refrain from going to crowded places to avoid spreading whatever illness is causing your sickness.

“There are a lot of viruses and bacteria that can cause influenza-like illness,” Pekosz said. “It’s always good to be cautious and not go out if you aren’t feeling well.”

It’s possible to have both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, but it rarely happens, Pekosz said. Even so, Lucira’s test will be able to detect that.

What This Means For You

The FDA authorized the first over-the-counter test that can detect influenza A, influenza B, and SARS-CoV-2. You don’t need a prescription to buy it, however, the test is only available through the manufacturer’s website at the moment. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 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. Food and Drug Administration. FDA authorizes first over-the-counter at-home test to detect both influenza and COVID-19 viruses.

  2. Food and Drug Administration. Flu: what to do if you get sick.

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.