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  • Respiratory tract infection testing is not uniform—molecular testing has enabled the simultaneous detection of different pathogens.
  • Differentiating viral and/or bacterial infections is essential for selecting the appropriate treatment.
  • Unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics without knowing the pathogen causing the infection can lead to drug resistance.

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Testing methods




A sample is sent to a lab where experts encourage organisms in the sample to multiply. Then they examine to identify the pathogen.

Antigen (Rapid)

Antigen (Rapid)

Nasal or throat swabs are mixed with liquid on a paper strip to return results within half an hour.

Respiratory tract infection

Molecular (PCR)

Genetic material from samples collected on swabs is amplified to detect genetic traces of a specific organism, even in early stages of infection.

Respiratory Tract Infections Learning Guide


This comprehensive review of viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic RTIs is divided into four chapters: Etiology and Pathophysiology, Clinical Practice, Testing Strategies and Initial Workup, and Public Health Surveillance.

Download guide





Shared symptoms

Bacterial and viral overlap

Differentiating bacteria versus viral infection based on signs and symptoms alone can be challenging. Coughing and sneezing, fever, inflammation, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and cramping can occur in various infections.


High-risk patient conditions



  • Asthma
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Damaged or scarred lung tissue (interstitial lung disease)
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Tuberculosis
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Chronic Liver Disease
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Dementia or other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • HIV infection
  • Heart conditions
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system)
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
  • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
  • Stroke or cerebrovascular disease


Benefits of molecular testing



Diagnostic PCR testing

Diagnostic PCR (molecular) testing is considered the gold standard for pathogen detection and accuracy of results. The superior sensitivity of a molecular test can detect low pathogen loads. Molecular testing also has the benefit of scalability. Most lab-based PCR tests can accommodate 96 to 384 samples (including controls) simultaneously on a single plate.


Multiplex testing

Multiplex testing simultaneously differentiates respiratory diseases and helps identify cases of co-infection. Multiplex assay panels can go from two targets to dozens, making it an efficient technique.


The opportunity

The experience of molecular testing during the COVID-19 pandemic has experts looking at using the technology in other disease areas that are the subject of viral and bacterial infections.


Educational resources




Influenza: an underestimated threat

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COVID-19 testing during flu season—get the facts

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Multiplex testing helps provide critical insights as respiratory viruses surge.

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Respiratory Tract Infections

Respiratory Tract Infections

Why accurate detection and identification of pathogens is at the core of infection treatment

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