Influenza and the Role of Laboratory Testing
Seasonal influenza is a contagious viral infection of the respiratory system caused by the influenza A or B virus that occurs annually in the winter months. Diagnosing influenza can be difficult because clinical signs and symptoms often overlap with other respiratory illnesses, including the common cold and more serious infections, such as avian influenza (bird flu) or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Early and accurate influenza diagnosis provides opportunities for medical treatment that can reduce the severity and duration of the illness and allow implementation of containment strategies, especially in vulnerable populations.
Methods of diagnostic testing for influenza include serology, viral culture, immunofluorescence, point of-care (POC) antigen testing, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR testing is the most sensitive method for detecting human influenza virus. Mayo Medical Laboratories offers #88544 Influenza Virus Type A and B RNA by Rapid PCR, assay which is useful for confirming test results obtained by other, less sensitive testing methods.
There is no cure for influenza but antiviral drugs can relieve the severity and shorten the length of illness. Vaccination is currently the primary method of preventing influenza, risk of infection and its complications.