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New Rapid Molecular Flu Testing Available at Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Centers

The best defense against the flu is the flu shot. However, if you do catch the flu bug, an accurate and rapid diagnosis may reduce the length and severity of the illness. Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care is offering a new rapid molecular point-of-care test for flu at its seven locations in the western suburbs.

Using a simple swab inside the nose, the ID NOW™ system from Abbott, looks for the DNA and RNA of the flu virus. It can detect the flu even if there is only a small amount present. A test result is available in 13 minutes or less, compared to what is often a wait of up to 48 hours for other types of testing.

“By diagnosing flu early and more accurately, we can ensure patients are getting the right treatment as soon as possible. This will also help reduce the spread of the flu,” said Douglas Ambler, MD, medical director of quality, Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group. “In the right patient, antiviral drugs taken in the first 48 hours can help shorten the duration and severity of the flu. For patients with high risk factors, early treatment can be the difference between having a minor illness versus a more serious illness that could require hospitalization.”

Because the symptoms of influenza overlap with those of many other viral upper respiratory tract infections, people are often treated without a formal diagnosis.

According to Dr. Ambler, the newer technology is more reliable and reduces false positives and false negatives, which is especially important in the elderly and immunocompromised to rule out a bacterial infection or other illness.

“With a more accurate test we can treat high risk patients sooner, avoid further testing and decrease the prescribing of unnecessary antibiotics for viral infections,” said Dr. Ambler.

The overprescribing of antibiotics, for viral infections, when they are not needed, are key factors contributing to antibiotic resistance, which has been classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. According to the CDC, each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result.

Because the timing and duration of the flu seasons vary, yearly seasonal flu vaccinations should begin in September, or as soon as the seasonal flu vaccine is available. Seasonal flu typically begins in October and runs through May with peak seasonal flu between December and February.

Symptoms of the flu include acute onset of fever, cough, sore throat, muscle ache, headache, runny nose and feeling tired. According to the CDC, there are an estimated 25 to 50 million cases of influenza per year, and the disease and its complications cause as many as 150,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 to 49,000 deaths annually.

Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Centers are located in Aurora, Bartlett, Bloomingdale, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, St. Charles, and Wheaton. No appointment is necessary. Walk-in services are always available.