There are various types of COVID-19 tests that might be right for you. The following article provides a breakdown of the different tests with an explanation of them and the pros and cons of using each.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test
A PCR test detects the genetic material, the RNA, in a patient’s sample that is specific to the virus. Depending on the lab, test results could be returned in a matter of hours or it could be several days if there is a high volume of samples being tested at the time. The PCR test is the gold standard when it comes to COVID-19 testing. This type of test requires trained personnel to use specialized lab equipment and procedures. To learn more about how a PCR test works read more in our past blog post.
Pros : Most reliable testing method, sensitive enough to only need a very tiny amount of the RNA. It can detect the virus within days of infection, even in those that are asymptomatic.
Cons : Requires trained personnel and specialized equipment to complete the testing, so can take longer to get results.
Rapid antigen test
Antigens cause the body to produce an immune response and generate antibodies. Rapid antigen tests use lab-made antibodies to search a patient sample for the presence of viral proteins. The antigen test needs the sample to contain a lot of virus particles for a positive result, if the sample has low amounts of the virus the test could provide a false-negative.
Pros : Quick to implement with minimal training. Fast results to the patient on the same day of testing. No additional equipment required besides the test.
Cons : Not as accurate as PCR testing. May have to test more often since results rely on high amounts of the virus.
At home test
Rapid at home tests also detect certain viral proteins in the sample, but rely on a person testing themselves and following directions correctly. Timing is important in this test because it gives the best results when there are high amounts of the virus in the person’s system at the time. They are also most sensitive when a person is symptomatic. These tests can produce results in about 15 minutes.
Pros : Very fast and convenient to complete testing on your own time at home. No additional equipment required.
Cons : Not as accurate as other testing methods, more room for error when self-testing. May have to test more often since results rely on high amounts of the virus.