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Methods doctors use to test for the flu

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Amarillo, Texas - As the flu virus continues to hit hard across the country, local doctors are seeing many patients with symptoms.

Area doctors say their waiting rooms are flooded with patients experiencing flu-like symptoms. But, there are several methods to make sure you are properly diagnosed.

"About the last three weeks, we have really seen an active flu season in our clinics and in our ER," Mary Barlow, Baptist St. Anthony's Hospital says.

The flu, or what many believe to be the flu has taken it's toll on area residents. There are several methods doctors use to determine whether it is the actual influenza virus that has you under the weather, or simply something else.

"If you're presenting with flu like symptoms, and you have the test, before you leave you will know if you've got the flu or if you don't have the flu," Barlow says.

The fastest way to test for the flu is through a rapid antigen test, where doctors take a swab and can immediately check for flu virus strains.

"This is an example of one of those. It's a simple bedside test. It's a test that's done... It takes about 15 minutes or so to actually do the test," Todd Bell, M.D., West Texas Influenza Center.

But, Dr. Bell says this isn't always the most accurate test. There is between a 40 and 80 percent accuracy.

"Far and away the most accurate test are the PCR tests or the nucleic amplification tests," Bell says.

These tests are done in a lab, and their price tag reflects that.

"It may be $200 in order to do a PCR test, or that nucleic amplification test. The rapid test, even though it is an imperfect test, maybe costs one fourth of that," Bell says.

Dr. Bell says the most common way physicians diagnose the flu is simply through their clinical judgement.

You can always ask your doctor for one test over another during your visit.

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