Click here for current recommendations from CDC on the use of influenza diagnostic tests during the 2010-2011 season.
Summary: The widespread use of influenza rapid tests was not recommended during the 2009/2010 H1N1 Pandemic because the existing rapid tests were not designed to detect the 2009 A H1N1 pandemic virus and had sensitivities well under 50%. The CDC recommended treatment based on two factors: symptoms and risk factors for complications due to influenza infection.
The situation is a little different this year. As of mid-December 2010, the primary circulating flu viruses in the US have been seasonal flu A H3N2 and seasonal flu B. Of the viruses fully characterized during the week of December 4, 48% have been A H3N2, 42% have been flu B, and only about 10% have been 2009 H1N1. Commercial rapid influenza tests are better able to detect the seasonal viruses that have predominated thus far, with sensitivities that range as high as 70-80%. This means that the commercial influenza rapid tests may have a greater role to play in the management of influenza this year. However, there are still significant limitations to the use of the rapid tests. For the management of outpatients, the diagnosis of influenza should still rest primarily on symptoms and the prevalence of influenza in your community.