PCR Test vs. Rapid COVID-19 Test—What’s the Difference?
Medical researchers have done a fantastic job in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was sparked by a new strain of coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. Although little was known about this virus at the beginning of 2020, testing was considered key to slowing the spread of the disease. As a result, researchers developed a number of coronavirus testing methods within a relatively short time. Two of the most recommended tests for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or believe they have been exposed to the virus are the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and the rapid antigen test for COVID-19. Both of these tests are available at the Ouch Urgent Care clinic in St. Johns, Michigan. Ouch Urgent Care is also offering rapid COVID-19 testing at its Carson City clinic and at a temporary testing location in Lansing.
Which Type of COVID-19 Test Is Right for You?
Both the rapid antigen test and the PCR test are appropriate for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who have been in close contact with someone who has been infected. Coronavirus symptoms can vary, and some people who have contracted the virus experience no symptoms at all. For those who have noticeable symptoms, they may include:
- Body aches
- Loss of smell and/or taste
- Shortness of breath
It’s important to note that both the rapid and PCR tests are designed to detect active COVID-19 infections, and it’s best to receive testing a few days after you think you have been exposed to the coronavirus or you come down with symptoms. Both tests also typically involve nasopharyngeal sampling, which means a trained medical professional will insert a long swab into one or both of your nostrils to collect a sample for analysis.
Now for the differences: Although both tests are designed to reveal active COVID-19 infections, they don’t do so in the same way. The rapid antigen test identifies the presence of SARS-CoV-2 by detecting protein fragments that accompany coronavirus, and it doesn’t require lab analysis. The PCR test, on the other hand, detects the genetic material that’s specific to SARS-CoV-2, and the sample must be processed in a medical lab that’s properly equipped to analyze it.
And therein lies the biggest difference between the rapid COVID-19 test and the PCR test. The rapid test offers a faster turnaround time—often providing results within 15 minutes. Patients who receive the PCR test will likely wait at least two days for results, and during periods of high demand, results may not be available for up to a week.
Another important difference between the two tests is the accuracy rate. Experts say the rapid antigen test is quite likely to be accurate for patients who test positive for COVID-19. However, the rate for false negative results may be as high as 50%. For this reason, your doctor may recommend that you follow up with a PCR test if you test negative but you have symptoms or you’ve spent more than 15 minutes in close proximity (within 6 feet) to a COVID-positive individual.
If you’d like to receive coronavirus testing, you can click here to learn about the procedures at each of our four testing locations. Click here to read about our safety protocols and what to expect with COVID testing from Ouch Urgent Care. If you have additional questions about our services or locations, contact us today.