As you may have heard, Biden recently approved at-home tests for households delivered by USPS. As we increasingly face COVID-19 testing situations, we will talk about which test is appropriate for when and what it tells you. 

The PCR test is more accurate than the rapid antigen test. PCR tests are also known as nucleic acid amplification tests that amplify the sample through making copies to ensure better detection. Tests that have multiple virus gene targets are less susceptible to errors detecting variants.

A positive result for diagnostic tests indicates the presence of the virus spike protein for the rapid antigen test or the virus’ genetic makeup for the PCR test. Cross-contamination or sample mix-ups can cause false positives. Poor sample collection can cause false negatives.

High community prevalence or exposure increases your chance of testing positive and gives a sense of how likely your positive result is true.

Having symptoms is an indication that you may be infected, but being asymptomatic does not mean you are not infected nor does it mean your viral load is lower than someone who is symptomatic.

The PCR test is the most accurate diagnostic test. The rapid antigen test can provide a quicker diagnostic result and is available at-home, however it is less accurate and interpretation is dependent on whether you are symptomatic and in a community of high prevalence or have high exposure.

Source(s):

  • CDC Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests
  • FDA Testing basics
  • CDC Antigen tests
  • Pubmed Viral load in asymptomatic versus symptomatic patients

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