PCR or Fast Check: Which Is Higher?

Greater than 650 million COVID-19 exams have been achieved in america since early 2020, and almost 50 million of these exams recognized the COVID-19 virus accountable for a worldwide pandemic.

Testing charges decreased for a time as soon as vaccines grew to become accessible and the numbers of recent instances began to say no. Nonetheless, new variants and a need to return to a semblance of regular life have elevated the demand for exams once more.

There are extra choices for testing now than there have been at first of the pandemic. Lab testing continues to be accessible, however new forms of at-home exams have made testing simpler. Not each check is created equal, although, and there are professionals and cons to every sort of COVID-19 check.

This text will assessment the totally different COVID-19 exams and the advantages and downsides of every.

PCR Check

Polymer chain response (PCR) exams are usually carried out in a laboratory or healthcare setting. Utilizing a swab, you or a technician will gather a pattern of cells out of your nostril, mouth, or throat.

After assortment, the samples are handled with an enzyme answer and examined underneath excessive amplification (copied a number of instances). The approach permits check facilities to establish the precise genetic supplies within the pattern, together with the id of a particular virus. The check can even differentiate between totally different variants—or strains—of a virus.

Because the exams look at microscopic bits of a virus’s genetic materials, they’re extremely dependable—typically near 100%. The downfall to the method is the time that it takes and the truth that lab evaluation is required to get outcomes.

PCR exams will be carried out rapidly when there’s an pressing want, however they take a minimum of a number of hours to supply outcomes. If you’re not near the lab that’s doing all of your check, it might add additional time. Elevated demand and the variety of exams a selected lab is accountable for can even delay your outcomes. The hours that the check takes to finish can flip into days when distance and demand are factored in.

In mid-2020, the Meals and Drug Administration (FDA) started approving at-home PCR check kits that can help you gather a pattern at residence after which ship it to a lab for testing.

PCR COVID-19 Testing

  • Step one in taking a PCR check is to schedule an appointment with a testing middle or order a equipment on-line.
  • If you get the equipment or arrive at your testing middle, you or a technician will insert a testing swab into your nostril. If you’re doing the swabbing, you may be instructed how far to insert the swab into your nostril and what number of swipes to take inside both sides of your nostril. Often, you’ll swab every nostril with the identical swab for the very best outcomes.
  • When the check is finished, you’ll go residence or ship in your check equipment and look forward to the outcomes. How lengthy it takes will rely upon the lab or service that you simply use and the demand in your space.
  • It usually takes a number of days to obtain outcomes from a PCR check—or a number of hours at minimal.

There are additionally a number of choices for nucleic acid amplification exams that can be utilized at outpatient clinics and might present a end in about 20 minutes. These exams search for nucleic acid from the virus as a substitute of antigen.

Professionals and Cons of PCR Checks


  • Will be too delicate (e.g., exhibiting a constructive end result lengthy after you’re contagious)


    Takes extra time

    Residence exams have to be despatched to a lab for outcomes

Fast Check

Fast antigen testing appears to be like for items of the viral proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus (antigens) that causes COVID-19 somewhat than genetic materials (nucleic acid from the virus). These exams are fast and are sometimes used to detect different viruses that trigger diseases just like the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The FDA has authorized a number of speedy antigen exams for COVID-19 as a result of they provide a extra easy and accessible choice for testing. They will additionally produce ends in underneath an hour.

Fast Antigen COVID Testing

  • Step one in getting a speedy antigen check is to order your check equipment on-line or choose it up from a retailer or healthcare workplace.
  • If you open the equipment, learn the directions fastidiously. Every producer might have totally different directions to comply with.
  • Generally, the equipment will embrace a liquid, a swab, and a container or holder to place the swab in whilst you look forward to the check outcomes.
  • For the subsequent step, you’ll normally be instructed to moist the testing space with a liquid that comes with the equipment.
  • You’ll then use the enclosed swab to gather your pattern. This usually includes circling the swab a number of instances in every of your nostrils.
  • As soon as you’re achieved swabbing, you’ll place the swab onto or into the check equipment as instructed. The swab will start producing a end result when it reacts with the testing floor and liquid.
  • Whereas you may even see outcomes virtually instantly within the type of a coloured line or one other signal, wait till the instructed time to verify your outcomes. Many exams state outcomes are dependable in 15–half-hour.

Antigen exams are usually not as delicate as PCR-based or different nucleic acid amplification exams.

PCR exams can detect the COVID-19 virus almost 100% of the time. Antigen exams can solely detect the virus in about 80% of individuals with COVID-19 signs and fewer than half of the individuals who take the check once they haven’t any signs.

Professionals and Cons of Fast Antigen Checks


  • Will be achieved fully at residence

    Ends in lower than an hour

    Prices lower than a PCR check

    Good for repeated or serial testing

    Useful to distinguish chilly/flu signs from COVID-19


  • Much less correct than PCR

    Doesn’t work as effectively if in case you have no signs

    Accuracy depends upon the standard of the pattern you gather

    Person error can have an effect on outcomes

Which Check Ought to You Use?

There isn’t a proper or improper reply in relation to which COVID-19 check is greatest. There’s a time and place for every sort, and which one you select will rely in your scenario and signs.

For instance, if you’re sick and questioning whether or not your signs might be attributable to COVID-19, a speedy check can provide you that reply rapidly. That is useful as a result of it might can help you isolate your self from different individuals to assist scale back the unfold of the virus.

Nonetheless, if you happen to should not have signs otherwise you’re merely taking a check earlier than an occasion to just remember to’re not sick, a speedy antigen check might not be capable of provide the most correct end result.

People who find themselves symptomatic who want testing earlier than a medical process, people who find themselves testing as a result of they had been uncovered to somebody with COVID-19, or individuals who stay sick regardless of quite a few damaging speedy exams are the very best candidates for PCR testing. Whereas any such testing takes longer and is costlier than speedy exams, it might give you probably the most correct end result.


Each PCR and speedy antigen exams supply dependable choices for testing if in case you have signs that might be from COVID-19. Fast antigen exams will be more practical if it’s essential to do repeated (serial) testing.

A Phrase From Verywell

The COVID-19 check that you simply select will rely upon how you’re feeling, why you take a check, and the way susceptible the individuals round you’re to getting sick. In the event you want fast outcomes, a speedy antigen check is likely to be the most suitable choice. Nonetheless, if you happen to want probably the most correct check, or you’re nonetheless sick and wish to validate your speedy check end result, PCR is the higher alternative.

When you have questions on COVID-19 testing, signs, or remedy, discuss to your physician or one other trusted healthcare supplier.

Often Requested Questions

  • Can I take a COVID-19 check at residence?

    You’ll be able to gather samples for each PCR and speedy antigen exams at residence, however you’ll be able to solely get fast outcomes with a speedy antigen check. A PCR check have to be despatched to a lab the place particular gear is used to investigate your pattern.

  • Is one sort of COVID-19 check higher than the opposite?

    PCR exams are usually thought of extra correct than speedy exams, however speedy exams have advantages that PCR exams should not have—for instance, they supply outcomes quicker and for a decrease price. The check that’s best for you will rely upon why you take the check and the way quickly it’s essential to get outcomes.

  • How are PCR and antigen exams totally different?

    Each PCR and antigen testing use samples of cells collected out of your nostril, mouth, or throat. After assortment, PCR testing requires particular gear in a lab to get a end result whereas antigen testing can produce outcomes with restricted supplies in lower than an hour. PCR pattern collections will be achieved at residence however should be despatched to a lab for outcomes. Fast antigen exams will be achieved utterly at residence.

  • Which check will give me faster outcomes?

    It is potential to get PCR check ends in a number of hours if in case you have direct entry to a lab and there’s no one else ready. Nonetheless, as this situation is unlikely, a speedy antigen check will virtually all the time present quicker outcomes. That mentioned, the PCR check will nonetheless produce extra correct outcomes.

  • What do I do if my check is constructive?

    In the event you get a constructive COVID-19 check end result—regardless of which check you utilize—you need to keep residence and isolate. Usually, you’re contagious for about 10 days after you’re contaminated with the virus. Name your healthcare supplier if in case you have questions on testing, quarantine, or remedy.

  • How can I assist forestall the unfold of COVID-19?

    You’ll be able to assist forestall the unfold of COVID-19 by getting examined if in case you have signs, staying residence if you’re sick, isolating your self from others as you quarantine, practising frequent handwashing, and carrying a face masks.

The knowledge on this article is present as of the date listed, which suggests newer info could also be accessible if you learn this. For the latest updates on COVID-19, go to our coronavirus information web page.

Verywell Well being makes use of solely high-quality sources, together with peer-reviewed research, to help the information inside our articles. Learn our editorial course of to study extra about how we fact-check and maintain our content material correct, dependable, and reliable.
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  2. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention. CDC diagnostic exams for COVID-19. Up to date August 7, 2021.

  3. Crozier A, Rajan S, Buchan I, et al. Put to the check: use of speedy testing applied sciences for COVID-19. BMJ. February 2021;372:n208 doi:10.1136/bmj.n208

  4. Hafer N. What’s the distinction between a PCR and antigen COVID-19 check?. Up to date November 9, 2021.

  5. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Replace: FDA authorizes first check for affected person at-home pattern assortment. Up to date April 21, 2020.

  6. Abbott. COVID-19 Fast Testing: Each Minute Counts.

  7. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Replace: FDA authorizes antigen check as first over-the-counter absolutely at-home diagnostic check for COVID-19. Up to date December 15, 2021.

  8. Infectious Illnesses Society of America. Fast testing. Up to date October 25, 2021.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN

 Rachael is a contract healthcare author and important care nurse based mostly close to Cleveland, Ohio.

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