Testing and Respiratory Viruses

What to know

Testing is an additional prevention strategy that you can choose to assist in making decisions to further protect yourself and others.

An additional strategy to further protect yourself and others

A person setting up a COVID-19 self-test
Testing can provide useful information to help you make prevention or treatment choices.
Testing for respiratory viruses can help you decide what to do next, like getting treatment to reduce your risk of severe illness and taking steps to lower your chances of spreading a virus to others. There are various types of tests for respiratory virus infections. Antigen tests (“self-tests” or “rapid tests”) usually return results quickly (around 15 minutes). PCR tests are normally conducted by a healthcare provider. Although antigen tests are usually faster, they are not as good at detecting viruses as PCR tests. This means that you might get a negative result with an antigen test, but actually be infected with the virus.

How it works

Tests can help you find out if you are currently infected with a certain respiratory virus. While testing doesn't change how likely you are to catch or spread respiratory viruses, or how severe your illness might be, it can provide useful information to help you make prevention or treatment choices.

Steps you can take

Individuals can

  • Plan in advance of any illness so you can be ready to get tested quickly, particularly if you are someone who could benefit from treatment for respiratory viruses.
  • Antigen tests can be used for screening before gathering with others, especially to help protect people in your life who have risk factors for severe illness. However, false negatives are possible; false positives are uncommon.

Organizations can

  • Provide employees with paid time off to seek testing for respiratory viruses, as needed.

Key times for prevention

All of the prevention strategies described in this guidance can be helpful to reduce risk. They are especially helpful when:


CDC offers separate, specific guidance for healthcare settings (COVID-19, flu, and general infection prevention and control). Federal civil rights laws may require reasonable modifications or reasonable accommodations in various circumstances. Nothing in this guidance is intended to detract from or supersede those laws.