What is the difference between a rapid and a PCR test?

Posted by Jack on December 14, 2022
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    If you're at the doctor's office, you might hear them talking about a coronavirus test. Both the rapid and PCR test are designed to detect a virus that's been affecting people around the world. But what is the difference between them? Which one should you get? The truth is that they both accomplish the same goal: they help doctors determine whether or not your illness is caused by coronavirus. However, there are some key differences in how these tests work—and what those differences mean for you!

    The PCR test is more accurate but takes longer, while the rapid test can yield results in minutes.

    The PCR test is more accurate but takes longer, while the rapid test can yield results in minutes. The PCR test needs to be performed in a lab and is usually more expensive than a rapid test. A rapid test can be done at home, but it's not as accurate or sensitive as the PCR method.

    The PCR test requires a nasal swab and has a high degree of accuracy.

    A PCR test is more accurate than a rapid test. It requires a nasal swab and can only be performed by a professional. A PCR test may also be referred to as a DNA test or DNA amplification.

    A rapid test can be completed with just a finger prick and results are ready in minutes.

    In the case of a rapid test, you'll need to prick your finger and place it in a vial that's sent off for testing. Results are ready in minutes and—unlike PCR—can be done without sending out samples to a lab.

    Rapid HIV tests are not recommended for pregnant women because they can produce false negatives or inconclusive results, which could lead to an inaccurate diagnosis. Rapid tests detect antibodies to the virus, whereas PCR detects the actual virus itself.

    The PCR test is more expensive than the rapid test and needs to be done by a professional.

    The PCR test is more expensive and needs to be done by a professional. The rapid test can be done at home, but it’s important to note that they both detect coronavirus, so the results will be the same. The main difference between them is how each detects the virus.

    The rapid test uses a sample of your blood that reacts with antibodies in your bloodstream because of exposure to coronavirus—the same kind used in an ELISA antibody test (see below). If there are enough antibodies present, then it means you have been exposed to coronavirus and should seek medical attention immediately.

    The PCR test uses DNA from your blood sample instead of antibodies; if these genetic sequences are present from coronavirus, then it means you have been infected with this virus recently enough for its presence still being detectable via this method.

    More and more providers offer the rapid test.

    More and more providers are offering the rapid test. Rapid tests are growing in popularity as patients turn to them as an alternative to the more time-consuming and expensive PCR test, which requires a doctor's order.

    Rapid tests can be done by a patient themselves without a doctor's order, making it possible for people to get tested even if they don't have insurance or can't afford transportation costs associated with taking time off work. Some laboratories offer free rapid HIV tests, but others charge for them depending on your insurance coverage and other factors. The cost of these tests tends to vary from $15 - $50 USD (and sometimes even less), compared with $70 - $100 USD for PCR testing at most clinics and hospitals (though some offer discounts).

    Both tests detect coronavirus, but their methodologies are quite different.

    A PCR test is a more accurate, but slower method of detecting coronavirus. It requires you to submit a nasal swab to the lab for analysis. A rapid test can yield results in minutes and requires only a finger prick—yet is less reliable than its counterpart.

    Both tests can produce false negatives. “False negative means the patient has COVID but there is no detection,” Dr. Abdool Karim said.

    False negatives are more common than false positives, and they happen when the test says you don't have the disease but you do. This can occur for a number of reasons:

    • The sample doesn't contain enough DNA or RNA to be detected.
    • Outside factors, like temperature, humidity and air quality affect how long it takes for the sample to process.
    • If there's been a change in your body that makes it harder for COVID to replicate, like an organ transplant or recent surgery.

    [SOURCE: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/what-is-the-difference-between-rapid-and-pcr]

    A false positive means the test says you have COVID but you don't.

    False positives are most common when the test is done early in the disease and before symptoms have appeared. It can be caused by a different virus or it can be caused by a different strain of the same virus. In rare cases, false positive tests are caused by a completely different virus that resembles COVID. This type of false positive is called an antigenic cross-reaction which means that they are similar enough to cause confusion in your immune system and trigger antibodies against it even though you didn't actually have COVID (the cross-reacting agent).

    They detect different things, but both can have inaccurate results

    A rapid test detects the presence of a virus, while PCR tests detect antibodies to that virus. Rapid tests are less accurate than PCR tests, but they can be used to detect other viruses that may cause similar symptoms. PCR tests are more specific for the COVID virus and will only indicate whether you have been infected with this particular strain.

    Rapid tests also do not test directly for COVID; instead, they look for antibodies against it (which means you're already infected). Antibodies are proteins produced by our immune system in response to an invading pathogen like HIV or hepatitis C; but your body can take weeks or months before producing enough antibodies to be detected by a rapid test. So if you get tested right after contracting COVID, your rapid result might be negative—but don't panic! It just means we'll need more time before we know if there's been any damage done by this disease.


    Both tests are effective and reliable. The PCR test is more accurate but takes longer, while the rapid test can yield results in minutes. While both tests detect coronavirus, there are differences in how they accomplish this task. There may be times when one type of test is better suited for your needs than the other, but it's important to keep in mind that both methods accurately identify whether or not you have been infected with this virus.

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