The 2 Types of COVID-19 Tests Explained
Confused about COVID-19 testing? You’re not alone.
With so much information online, and our knowledge of the coronavirus evolving as researchers learn more, it’s crucial to understand your testing options.
Since the beginning of the pandemic the reliability of accurate testing has become increasingly valuable. South Korea, where tests were widely accessible during the pandemic’s first wave, experienced considerably lower death rates than countries with less accessible testing methods.
To outline your testing options, we’ll start with the basics. The FDA approves of two primary types of testing for current or prior infections from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
- Diagnostic Tests
- Antibody Tests
Diagnostic tests are used to identify individuals with the disease, using mucus or saliva to confirm the presence of active coronavirus infection.
Antibody tests are used to identify individuals who have had the disease and built up antibodies, through blood tests confirming the presence of a previous encounter with your immune system.
While immunity will likely become a marker of future COVID-19 management, identifying and isolating positive cases is a current focus, so we’ll start with the different diagnostic tests available.
Understanding COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests
There are currently two COVID-19 diagnostic tests available.
These are molecular tests, such as PCR tests. As well as antigen tests. Both of these diagnostic tests are able to confirm a positive coronavirus infection, though use different methods and offer varying advantages across reliability and speed.
Molecular Tests (PCR Tests)
PCR tests are considered the most sensitive for diagnosing an active coronavirus infection with current tests showing a 99% effectiveness. You may have taken this test as a precursor to work, school or travel. PCR tests involve the collection of mucus from your throat or nose using a specialized swab. Each swab collects an RNA sample, which is the nucleic acid used to convert DNA into proteins. RNA carries the genetic information of coronavirus, and is a reliable measure of current infection.
PCT tests can deliver accurate results in as little as minutes if analyzed on site, though typically take 12-24 hours.
Antigen Tests (Rapid Tests)
Antigen tests are considered a rapid test as the results are available much quicker than an RNA test. From a patient’s point of view the testing process is similar to a PCR test, with throat or nose swabs collecting samples. Instead of waiting days, your antigen test can deliver results in a matter of minutes. Each swab looks for antigens, which are proteins produced by your body when it encounters a foreign virus, like COVID-19.
Antigen tests are typically fast, though not considered as accurate as PCR tests with false positives as a possibility. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people displaying COVID-19 symptoms, but who have tested negative for the virus with an antigen test, to get a PCR test to confirm the results.
Understanding COVID-19 Antibody Tests
Immune systems exposed to COVID-19 produce IgG antibodies to help fight the virus. Antibody tests use blood samples (serology) to confirm the presence of IgG antibodies.
As per FDA recommendations, an antibody test should not be used to diagnose current coronavirus infection. Instead, antibody tests tell you if you’ve been infected in the past. Studies have shown COVID-19 antibodies are produced between 14-21 days after symptoms begin. As a result, antibody tests taken while your body is mounting its defense may interfere with your results.
Antibody tests are important in understanding the prevalence of COVID-19 in the population, as well as delivering valuable insight into the level of asymptomatic infection. More research is required to gauge the long-term immunity effects following a positive COVID-19 infection with the CDC and relevant partners continuing to investigate possible immunity and reinfection figures. For this reason a serology test should not be used as evidence to discontinue safety measures like wearing a mask or practicing social distancing.
How to Find the Right COVID-19 Test for You
Quick and accurate testing is crucial towards managing the spread of the coronavirus in the community. Making sure you’re COVID-19 free protects your health and the health of those around you. For individuals, teams and businesses, fast and reliable COVID-19 testing is a priority.
The best way to get tested is to book your COVID-19 test online to avoid length delays and ensure you get your results fast. With 99.9% accuracy, Sameday Testing offers rapid antigen tests and fast PCR testing, processed in our CLIA-certified laboratories for short turnaround times and your peace of mind.