Public involvement

ORCHID research & surveillance of diseases

Virology Surveillance - volunteers needed

Have you or a member of your family had a flu-like illness, or a combination of cough and fever or shortness of breath, within the last 10 days?

If the answer is yes, we’d love your help! 

We’re inviting you to take part in our disease surveillance programme by completing a simple at-home swab to help us detect and monitor the spread of respiratory diseases and predict vaccines needed for the coming year.

What is ORCHID and why is tracking viruses important?

ORCHID is the 'Oxford-Royal College of General Practitioners Clinical Informatics Digital Hub', based at the University of Oxford. We work with the Oxford-Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Research & Surveillance Centre (RSC) and GP practices across the country to monitor diseases in the general population and help facilitate clinical research projects. 

Every year there are a range of respiratory viruses circulating among communities. We have been monitoring the spread of these viruses for over 50 years, tracking new viruses as they appear. Since the early 1990s, we've also been asking patients who may have flu or a flu-like illness to contribute a swab for analysis. The swabs are tested for different strains of flu and a range of other respiratory viruses, including COVID-19. The results can be used by the patient's GP to advise on suitable care and will contribute to a wider picture of the spread of respiratory diseases that are used to inform public health policy.

Since 2020, we have expanded our swabbing efforts to include year-round testing for those respiratory viruses. We also now ask for an additional blood sample from patients attending their GP practice for a routine blood test. The blood samples are used to assess background population immunity and help us understand the effectiveness of vaccines. 

For more detail on virology swabbing and blood samples, you can the read the Patient Information Sheet or read our clinician information page.

Who is eligible?

  • Anyone with a flu-like illness, respiratory tract infection or covid-like illness within 10 days of symptom onset
  • All ages including people over 65 years old, and children and young adults, especially those under 5 years old

What are flu-like symptoms?

Flu-like symptoms can include: fever, cough, headache, runny nose, muscle ache, and a sore throat.

Respiratory Tract Infection (RTI) symptoms can include: a cough (you may bring up mucus), sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, a sore throat, headaches, muscle aches, breathlessness, tight chest or wheezing, a high temperature, or feeling generally unwell.

Your eligibility for a swab will depend on clinical judgement of your illness, so please refer to your GP.

Do you think you might be eligible and are you interested in taking part?

To take part, all you need to do is contact your GP practice to ask if you might be eligible for a swab. Based on your preference and what is available at your practice, you can either:

  • complete the swab at your practice OR
  • request a voucher code to order the kit online to be delivered and completed in the comfort of your own home

Please note: travel is not necessary and you will not incur any costs for your participation. All postage will be pre-paid.

Here's a flowchart showing how you can take part and what to expect at each stage:



Will I receive my swab results?

The lab will analyse your swab for the presence of respiratory viruses, including flu strains, COVID-19 and a series of other respiratory viruses typically seen over winter. Results from the tests will be sent to your GP practice.

If you ordered a swab online, the flu and COVID-19 results will also be texted to the mobile number you provided. No further participation will be required.

How do I order kit online?

Once you’ve received your voucher code, you’ll need to complete this short online form at TakeATestUk. You'll need your NHS number, so please have this to hand or ask your GP practice to provide you with your NHS number in advance. The online form will ask you about your symptoms and the number of days you've been experiencing them. 

The online form will also ask you for a delivery address for the kit and a mobile number to text the results to you. 

Once the kit has arrived, you can follow these easy instructions for self-swabbing and packing the sample for postage. We encourage you to post the sample as soon as possible, ideally the same day.

The kit will look a bit like this: 

If the kit hasn't arrive within 2 working days, please contact TakeATestUK as soon as possible using the Saving Lives helpline on 07838214191.

How will my data be used?

All tests are kept confidential and assigned a unique identifier to ensure researchers cannot identify patients. Further information about your rights with respect to your personal data is available at:

Please read the Patient Information Sheet for further information:

Patient Information Sheet for General Virology Surveillance 2021/2022

We are extremely grateful for every swab we receive and value your participation


You can view previous weekly and annual reports here: RCGP Public Health Data 


If you have any further questions, please get in contact with your GP practice or Patient Participation Group, and they'll be able to help or forward your question on to us.

You can also email us at: