Is it COVID, the flu, or RSV? A Roche test could soon provide the answer in 20 minutes

This past winter, hospitals and clinics across Indiana filled up with patients suffering from different respiratory illnesses that have much the same symptoms: COVID-19, flu and RSV. And many more people suffered at home with fevers, sore throats and stuffy noses, wondering: What virus do I have? While COVID-19 tests are easy to use, they can only tell you whether or not you have one ailment. Starting this summer, though, health care providers will have a new rapid test to help quickly diagnose which of the three respiratory illnesses is ailing their patients.

Indianapolis-based Roche Diagnostics is releasing a PCR test for people suffering from cough, congestion, fever and sore throat, symptoms common in many viral infections. The second test of its kind, Roche's nasal swab will be able to determine if the patient has COVID-19, Influenza A, Influenza Flu B or Respiratory Syncytial Virus during the span of a doctor's visit.

Indianapolis, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, at the North American headquarters for Roche Diagnostics Corp.
Indianapolis, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, at the North American headquarters for Roche Diagnostics Corp.

"This test is coming precisely from requests of our customers and other clinicians," said Alesia McKeown, an expert at Roche on diagnostic tests for respiratory illnesses. "They want to be able to have these four results from a single sample."

While at-home and in-office tests already exist, McKeown said the Roche test offers something faster and more accessible than lab tests while being more sensitive than available rapid tests for COVID-19.

When will the test be available?

Roche expects the test to be available for providers later this summer, before flu season starts in the fall.

How does the test work?

The test is a nasal swab that can be done at a primary care office, pharmacy, urgent care or hospital.

Roche said the company is not planning to produce an at-home version of this test, due to the need for special equipment and skilled providers. However, McKeown said, Roche recognizes the popularity of at-home tests and is looking into developing those options.

Is it COVID or flu or RSV?

Patients and doctors alike can't diagnose respiratory illnesses by symptoms alone.

While many patients opt to stay-at-home with mild symptoms until they recover, some may need more care or treatment.

Identifying the specific virus not only helps determine the course of treatment, but also helps public health officials track community spread of diseases, McKeown said.

What is the difference between a PCR and a rapid test?

This type of test, known as a PCR test, is more sensitive and is generally considered more accurate than a rapid test, according to health experts.

Rapid tests, however, can be done at home, making them more convenient.

Binghui Huang can be reached at 317-395-1595 or

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis-based company Roche produces test for COVID, RSV and flu