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Viral Respiratory Infection Test

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Sep.09.2022
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 Viral Respiratory Infection Test

Viral Respiratory Infection Test

Why am I having this test?

A viral respiratory infection test is done to diagnose certain viral infections of the respiratory system. The respiratory system includes the nose, throat, windpipe, and lungs. In this test, a sample of the genetic material from the back of your nose and throat, or the nasopharynx, is collected and sent to a lab for testing. The results will show whether a virus is causing your infection. It will also help your health care provider plan for your treatment.

You may be given this test if:
  • You have symptoms of a viral respiratory infection, such as fever, cough, or sore throat.
  • You are at risk for a viral respiratory infection because of your work or travel.
  • You have had contact with someone who is sick, or there are many people who are infected in your community.
  • It is important to find out if you are infected, even if you do not have symptoms. If you have a viral respiratory infection, you could spread the infection to other people before your symptoms begin.

You do not have to prepare for this test.

What is being tested?

This test checks for the presence of a virus in your respiratory system. It checks a sample for the genetic material that makes up the virus (viral genetic material). Sometimes, the test is also used to find bacteria.

What kind of sample is taken?

A sample is collected by swabbing the nose.

A fluid sample from the back of your nose and throat is collected using a swab that is attached to a metal or plastic wire.

What happens during the test?

Your health care provider will collect the sample by:
  • Tilting your head back.
  • Inserting the swab through one nostril, along the bottom of your nose (nasopharyngeal), until it reaches the back of your nose (about 2 inches or 5 cm).
  • Gently rolling the swab to collect viral genetic material from your nose. Specimens may be collected from both sides of your nose using the same swab.

If you have a deviated septum or blockage, it can make it hard to collect the specimen from one nostril. In this case, your health care provider will use the same swab to collect the specimen from the other nostril.

If the swab cannot be easily passed through your nose, your health care provider may collect the sample by:
  • Putting the swab through your mouth and into the back of your throat (oropharyngeal).
  • Putting the swab halfway inside your nose, to the middle front of the nose (mid-turbinate).

Your health care provider may also collect the sample using a sterile saline solution. This is a germ-free mixture of salt and water. The sample will be collected by:
  • Using a syringe to push a small amount of saline into your nose.
  • Suctioning the fluid from your nose into a cup. This fluid is called a nasal wash or aspirate.

For all methods used, the collected sample will be placed into a culture tube, labeled with your name, and sent to the lab for testing.

How are the results reported?

Your test results will be reported as either positive or negative.

What do the results mean?

  • A positive result means that viral genetic material was found. This also means that you likely have a respiratory infection from a virus.
  • A negative result means that no viral genetic material was found. This also means that you likely do not have a respiratory infection from a virus.

If you have a positive result, this test may identify the type of virus or bacteria that you have. The test may indicate whether your infection is from:
  • Flu (influenza) viruses.
  • Coronaviruses.
  • Rhinoviruses.
  • Adenoviruses.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
  • Bacteria that cause whooping cough and certain types of lung infection (pneumonia).

Talk with your health care provider about what your results mean. In some cases, your health care provider may do more testing to confirm the results.

Questions to ask your health care provider

Ask your health care provider, or the department that is doing the test:
  • When will my results be ready?
  • How will I get my results?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What other tests do I need?
  • What are my next steps?

Summary

  • A viral respiratory infection test is done to diagnose certain viral infections in the respiratory system.
  • This test involves collecting a sample of fluid from the back of your nose and throat and testing it in a lab for the presence of the virus.
  • The sample is collected using a swab that is attached to a metal or plastic wire.
  • A positive result means that you likely have a viral respiratory infection. A negative result means that you likely do not have a viral respiratory infection.
  • Talk with your health care provider about what your results mean.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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