There was a time just a few years ago when feeling a little under the weather elicited little more than a desire to get more rest and maybe take a day or two off work to let the “bug” run its course. But today, most of us are a lot more suspicious of any symptoms we have. Even mild chills, a slight headache, and a little coughing can leave us wondering: Could it be COVID-19?
Fortunately, testing can give us the answers — and most of us can get those answers pretty quickly. At Triad Primary Care, our team offers two main types of COVID-19 testing for patients in Greensboro, North Carolina: a rapid test and a PCR lab test. Here’s how they compare, and here’s what to expect during your COVID-19 test.
Both rapid testing and PCR testing can be effective in identifying COVID-19 infection, but there are some important differences between the two tests, including how they determine if you’re infected.
Also called an antigen test, a rapid COVID-19 test looks for proteins associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The biggest benefit of the rapid test is pretty obvious: It provides results almost immediately — much more rapidly than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) lab test. That means you can be treated faster and decrease the risk of transmitting the virus to someone else.
Rapid testing is what’s used in home COVID-19 tests. The most accurate results are obtained in people who have active symptoms of COVID-19 and who have had those symptoms for under seven days. If you wait longer than that, a negative test result may not be as accurate because your levels of those proteins may be lower by that time.
PCR testing is a special lab testing method that looks for genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It can be used to detect the virus even in people without symptoms, and overall, it’s much more accurate than rapid testing — in fact, it’s considered the gold standard for COVID-19 detection. However, the test takes much longer to perform, which means it typically takes 2-3 days before results are available.
Both rapid testing and PCR testing use nasal swabs to collect the samples that are evaluated. Your provider inserts the cotton tip of the swab about an inch into each nostril. Then, the swab is moved in a circular motion several times to collect a sample from the “walls” of the nostrils.
Sample collection is quick, although it might feel a little uncomfortable. Once the test is done, the swab material from the rapid test is combined with a liquid that “reacts” when those proteins are present. For the PCR test, the swab sample is evaluated in a lab using the PCR technique mentioned earlier.
COVID-19 tests are appropriate for anyone who has symptoms of the virus. But it’s also advised for people who don’t have symptoms who haven’t been vaccinated and:
COVID-19 detection is important for slowing the spread of the disease and for understanding how the disease is currently being transmitted. If you think you might need a COVID-19 test, call 336-800-8958 or book an appointment online at Triad Primary Care today.