What’s The Difference Between COVID-19 Rapid and PCR Tests?

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Article taken from Memorial Healthcare.

There are essentially two broad categories of testing:

  1. Antigen test (frequently referred to as a rapid test). This test detects protein fragments specific to the Coronavirus. It can be done in a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital. Turnaround time for results is usually very quick and in some cases, results can be reported within 15 minutes.
  2. PCR test. PCR testing is considered the “gold standard” in SARS-CoV-2 detection. This test actually detects RNA (or genetic material) that is specific to the virus and can detect the virus within days of infection, even those who have no symptoms. The test can be done in a clinic, hospital, or even in your car. Turnaround time is longer, generally in the 2-3 day range but results can be in as little as 24 hours. When demand is high, results can take a week or longer.

“In those who don’t have symptoms, the false-negative rate — meaning my test is negative but I actually have the disease — can be as high as 50%. This can have tremendous consequences as we try to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The false-positive rate — meaning I test positive but I don’t really have the disease — is quite low. So, if you test positive from a rapid test it is more likely you do have the disease.” (Memorial Healthcare, 2020) 

Memorial Healthcare. (November 2020). What’s The Difference Between COVID-19 Rapid and PCR Tests? Retrieved November 29th, 2021 from https://www.memorialhealthcare.org/whats-the-difference-between-covid-19-rapid-and-prc-tests/