COVID-19 Rapid Testing vs. PCR Testing

November 15, 2020


As medical researchers continue to study the novel coronavirus that appeared in 2019, they are able to develop better and better methods of testing and treatment. Most recently, development in rapid testing has made getting results quick and easy. Here is everything you need to know about rapid and standard PCR testing.

PCR Testing

A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test has been the standard test for the COVID-19 virus for most of the pandemic’s duration thus far. This test looks for the virus’ genetic information, called the RNA. RNA is only present if the virus is actively replicating. If it is present, it means there is a present and active infection. Viral RNA can be detected in the body even before symptoms begin showing, so the PCR test is an excellent way to get an early jump on a diagnosis.

The PCR test is done by having a medical professional take a sample from the inside of the nose or the back of the throat using a long swab. Processing the test can take a long time, and there are several different steps that must be followed correctly to prevent false negatives. The most recent version of the PCR test has about an 85% accuracy rate. Results are available between three to five days.

Rapid Testing

Like the PCR test, a sample is taken from the patient using a nasopharyngeal swab. This should not be painful, but it could be uncomfortable. The difference is the way the virus is detected compared to the PCR test. During the rapid test, the sample will be swiped along a plastic-encased strip of paper that has been coated with COVID-19 antibodies. If there are viral antigens (bits of protein from the virus) in the sample, they will bind to the antibodies and reveal a visible change in the paper, similar to an at-home pregnancy test.

The rapid testing allows results to be clear within minutes. If you choose this test, you will receive the results in less than an hour, depending on how busy your testing location is.

Which Test is Right for Me?

If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus or you’ve begun showing symptoms, call your doctor or urgent care center and explain what you’ve been experiencing. Unless testing kits are in very short supply, they will most likely recommend that you book a COVID-19 test. There, you can discuss your options for which test to choose.


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