NEWS

Can I Test My Child at Home for RSV and Flu?

parent swabbing a child's nose

Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Labcorp offers the only FDA-approved at-home test kit that screens for COVID-19, the flu, and RSV.
  • These PCR tests are approved for use in people 2 years old and up with results arriving through an online portal in one to two days.
  • While at-home testing is convenient, it may not be appropriate for those with severe symptoms or those who have a pre-existing medical condition.

You know your child is sick—they have a fever, chills, and a cough. But it can be challenging to decipher whether they have COVID-19, the flu, RSV, or something else. Now, you may be able to determine what is causing their symptoms with one simple nose swab at home. But it's not as simple as you think.

Labcorp, one of the country's largest testing labs, offers the only FDA-approved at-home kit that allows parents to test their kids at home to see whether they are sick with RSV, the flu, or COVID. But, it is important to note this is a PCR test and not rapid like you are probably used to by now with at-home COVID tests. Instead, it must be sent back to a lab, with results arriving in a portal within one to two days.

"Testing can help people quickly determine which virus they have, allowing them to determine the best course of treatment in consultation with a healthcare provider," says Brian Caveney, MD, MPH, chief medical officer and president of diagnostics, at Labcorp.

At-Home Testing For Flu, RSV and COVID-19

In May 2022, Labcorp received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a combination at-home test kit that targets not only COVID-19 but also influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Quest Diagnostics also has a test requiring only one nasal swab for all three illnesses. But it is administered by a healthcare provider and not available for home use.

The Labcorp kit, known as Pixel, is available through the company's online health platform. There is no prescription required and it can be used on individuals ages 2 and up. According to Dr. Caveney, the test also is covered by insurance and can be ordered by your child's healthcare provider or purchased online through Labcorp OnDemand—even without a doctor's visit.

"People who are seeking a fast, convenient option for knowing the cause of their symptoms can order our combination RSV/flu/COVID-19 PCR test through a doctor or purchase it online, which provides everything needed to collect a sample and receive results within one to two days," he adds.

At-home testing can be a benefit for families in many ways. Those who choose to use this type of test kit have the convenience of home delivery with drop-off at a local FedEx store, says Sabah Kalyoussef, DO, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at the children's hospital at Saint Peter's University Hospital.

At-home testing means that the nasal swab is done in a comfortable and familiar environment for your child. For some kids, this can be less stressful than having a doctor or nurse swab their noses. Plus, you are not exposing other people to your child by taking them out.

"Another big advantage is that you don't have to go to the doctor or a lab to have the specimen collected," says Brian Labus, PhD, MPH, REHS, an expert in infectious diseases and an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the UNLV School of Public Health. "The kit identifies multiple pathogens from a single swab and it uses the more accurate PCR method."

Where Can I Buy an At-Home, Rapid Flu Test?

Each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of the flu with children getting sick more frequently than any other population group. Meanwhile, RSV sends up to 80,000 young children under 5 years old to the hospital annually.

For this reason, it is not surprising that many parents are interested in rapid at-home testing for their kids, specifically for the flu. But, to date, there is no rapid antigen flu test for home use. Instead, this type of test must be administered by your child's pediatrician, says Labus.

"While a [rapid] test might be simple enough to run at home, the interpretation is often a challenge," he says. "Rapid flu tests can often give false positives and it takes a skilled clinician to figure out what it means based on the clinical presentation, other test results, and what is circulating in the community. Plus, treatment for flu is by prescription only, so it makes sense to coordinate with your [child's] doctor." 

The Downside of At-Home Testing For Illnesses

The thought of being able to do a test at home to find out the root cause of your child's illness sounds promising—especially if it means you are not exposing other children in your pediatrician's office or dragging them out of the house when they would rather be sleeping. But there are some downsides to at-home testing, too.

"The unfortunate reality of any test is that it can give false negative and false positive results whether it is performed at home or at the doctor's office," says Dr. Labus. "Even if the results are correct, you will still need to see a doctor for treatment. And just because [your child] tests negative for all three tests doesn't mean that [they] aren't sick with something else."

The time commitment needed for obtaining the test and mailing it in for results also can be a challenge, Dr. Kalyoussef says. "There is even the possibility that the kit may be delayed in arriving at your house or you may have to drive a long time to find a local FedEx drop-off site."

This delay could also mean a delay in getting your child the treatment they need, especially if you do not get them tested at the first sign of symptoms. Keep in mind that some antiviral drugs—like Tamiflu—must be administered within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to be the most effective.

Home testing also may not be the best choice if your child has a pre-existing medical condition or is at risk for pneumonia or other complications from these viruses. Always check with a healthcare provider about whether or not at-home testing is right for your child.

"Before patients purchase Labcorp’s COVID/Flu/RSV Home Collection Kit, they are required to fill out a brief questionnaire to see if they meet the criteria," says Dr. Caveney. "Based on the information provided, those with severe symptoms are recommended not to delay medical attention and seek testing for the virus from their healthcare provider."

The Future of Home Testing For Flu and RSV

Until the pandemic, home testing for viruses was not a common practice. Not only were home tests historically inaccurate, but experts were concerned that the general public could not reliably test themselves and then get the treatment they needed to heal properly. But, COVID at-home testing has changed that. Studies now show that people can reliably use at-home testing kits and then seek the treatment they need as well as isolate when appropriate.

"The COVID pandemic has taught us that having tools at home can help keep our families safe," says Dr. Kalyoussef. "At-home testing [also] may help decrease the spread of viral illness."

That said, we are still a ways off from having rapid at-home testing. According to Dr. Kalyoussef, pediatricians must perform quality controls on their in-office rapid flu tests to ensure the test is accurate. These are steps that the average parent may not be able to do. Until the tests become more accurate and easier to use, the best chance for early treatment at this point is to see a healthcare provider.

"At-home testing worked for COVID because nearly all respiratory disease was caused by COVID and the results allowed people to isolate at home to stop the spread," adds Dr. Labus. "When multiple viruses and bacteria are circulating, though, these advantages are no longer present. Removing clinicians from the testing process might be more convenient for patients but ignores the reality of how difficult it is to correctly diagnose someone and then to provide the proper treatment."

What This Means For You

When your child is sick, it is natural to want to do what you can to minimize their discomfort and allow them the opportunity to rest. At-home testing for the flu, COVID, and RSV may be one way for you to accomplish that goal and ultimately get them the treatment they need without multiple trips to the pediatrician's office. Just keep in mind that at-home testing may not be right for everyone. Talk to your child's pediatrician about whether or not you should use an in-home test for your child.

9 Sources
Verywell Family 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. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA authorizes first COVID-19 test available without a prescription that also detects flu and RSV.

  2. Quest Diagnostics. COVID-19, flu, and RSV test.

  3. Labcorp OnDemand. COVID-19/flu/RSV test home collection kit.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently asked questions about estimated flu burden.

  5. Tokars JI, Olsen SJ, Reed C. Seasonal incidence of symptomatic influenza in the United StatesClinical Infectious Diseases. 2018;66(10):1511-1518. doi:10.1093/cid/cix1060

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RSV research and surveillance.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rapid influenza diagnostic tests.

  8. American Academy of Pediatrics. Influenza exposure.

  9. McCulloch DJ, Kim AE, Wilcox NC, et al. Comparison of unsupervised home self-collected midnasal swabs with clinician-collected nasopharyngeal swabs for detection of sars-cov-2 infectionJAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(7):e2016382. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.16382

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.