What is the Difference Between the Types of Tests Available for COVID-19?

February 10, 2022
Young man receiving a COVID-19 nasal swab test

If you’re unsure about the differences between the various COVID-19 testing methods available, you’re far from alone. PCR, antibody, antigen…what do these terms mean, and what type of test is best for your needs? To help clear up any confusion, let’s take a closer look at the most common types of COVID-19 testing, including a few of their pros and cons:

PCR Testing

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is widely considered to be the “gold standard” of COVID-19 diagnostics. This highly accurate molecular test screens for the genetic material (ribonucleic acid or RNA) of SARS-CoV-2—the novel coronavirus responsible for the respiratory illness that we know as COVID-19. The purpose of PCR testing is to identify an active infection, but it may also detect traces of an inactive virus (meaning it’s possible to test positive when you are no longer infected). Results from a PCR test also take a while to interpret, sometimes one to three days.

Antigen Testing

Antigen testing screens for proteins related to SARS-CoV-2 rather than the virus’ genetic material. This method delivers results quickly (sometimes in as little as 10 minutes) and is ideal for patients who are in a time crunch. On the downside, antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR tests and may not be able to detect a COVID-19 infection in its earliest stages.

Antibody Testing

Unlike PCR and antigen tests, antibody testing does not screen for an active COVID-19 infection. Rather, it is performed to identify antibodies related to a past infection. Antibodies are special proteins in the bloodstream that are produced by the immune system in response to a virus, such as SARS-CoV-2. Testing positive for specific antibodies (notably IgM and IgG antibodies) indicates that you may have previously had COVID-19, even if you never experienced any notable symptoms. It’s currently unclear how much immunity a past COVID-19 infection provides.

COVID-19 Testing at PhysicianOne Urgent Care

As the needs of our community change, so do our COVID-19 testing services here at PhysicianOne Urgent Care. Our Northeast-based network of modern and clean urgent care centers provides a complete spectrum of COVID-19 tests according to the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). All of our locations are frequently sanitized and adhere to the most up-to-date infection control guidelines to protect the health of our patients and staff.

Currently, PhysicianOne Urgent Care offers:

  • PCR testing with results available in one to three days
  • Rapid antigen testing with same-day results
  • Antibody testing

Our PCR and antigen tests involve an anterior nasal swab to collect secretions from the back of a patient’s nose. Antibody testing, on the other hand, requires a small blood draw.

The coronavirus pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, so be sure to check our COVID-19 page for the latest updates regarding our testing services and guidelines. If you have any questions regarding COVID-19 tests, availability, or the steps we’re taking to keep patients safe, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 860-650-3848.

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