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What's the Difference Between PCR and Rapid Covid-19 Testing?


If you’re feeling sick or you were recently in close contact with someone with COVID-19, you’re probably looking into your COVID-19 testing options. And if so, it’s likely that you’ve also become confused by the different types of testing talked about from co-workers, friends and family, even the media. Terms like PCR, rapid testing, and antibody testing are splashed across websites when talking about COVID-19, and it can be difficult to make sense of what they mean and which one is right for you. Our goal for you, by reading this article, is to explain the differences between the two most common tests to diagnose COVID-19: rapid antigen tests and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

Rapid Antigen Tests

A rapid antigen test can be administered for individuals with or without COVID-19 symptoms. This test involves collecting nose and throat secretions via nasopharyngeal swab, then examining them for protein fragments specific to the COVID-19 virus. While these tests provide quick results—usually within 15 minutes—they are generally considered to be less accurate than PCR tests. It’s common to receive a false negative (a result that indicates the individual doesn't have coronavirus when in fact, do have Covid-19) or a false positive (a result that indicates a person has coronavirus when they actually don’t have Covid-19). If you are feeling under the weather and received a negative rapid test, you may want to receive the PCR test for further confirmation. However, when administered while someone is at the climax of their infection, rapid antigen tests generally provide accurate results as this is when virus levels in the body are the highest.

PCR Tests

PCR tests are almost like rapid tests in several ways, as they can be administered to those with or without symptoms and are conducted with a nasopharyngeal swab. But that’s where the similarities end.

PCR tests are considered the gold standard when it involves COVID-19 testing. In fact, if you've been asked to prove that you took a COVID-19 test, you were required to provide results from a PCR test. These tests provide more accurate results than rapid tests, and that’s because they use a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to spot the viral genetic material of COVID-19. This genetic material will be detected while a person is actively infected and also after the acute illness.

The downside to PCR tests, of course, is that results aren't as quick as rapid tests. The general timeline is a minimum of three days, up to a maximum of seven days.

Covid-19 Testing at Sovereign Urgent Care

Sovereign Urgent Care is here to help residents of Lehigh County, Allentown and Trexlertown Pennsylvania who need COVID-19 testing. We offer both rapid and PCR testing at our new location, and we can help you determine which test fits your needs prior to visiting the urgent care.

To learn more about our COVID-19 testing services, please call Sovereign Urgent Care today.


Read more by visiting the CDC's website about the 2 types of testing available. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html


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