PCR vs Antigen Testing- What’s the Difference?

PCR vs Antigen Testing- What's The Difference?

With there being a lot of tests to find out if you have COVID-19 or not, it can be confusing which one is right for you. That's why we're talking about the two biggest tests- PCR and antigen- to help clear up any misconceptions.


 PCR is the acronym for polymerase chain reaction test. An infection can be detected by analyzing the genetic material of a sample to determine if it contains viral genetic material. However, in terms of COVID-19, it is used to find a specific genetic material- in this case RNA, or ribonucleic acid, of SAR-CoV-2. Scientists use PCR technology to amplify small amounts of RNA from specimens into DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, which is then repeated until SARS-CoV-2 is detectable, if at all present.  

Not only is PCR testing accurate, it is also super reliable. It can detect the virus within days of infection, even for those who are asymptomatic- or do not show any symptoms. This can be done in a clinic, hospital, or even in your car with the turnaround time being in the two to three day range, but in some cases can be as little as 24 hours. However, when demand is high, results can take up to a week or even longer to get.


Frequently referred to as a rapid antigen test or antigen detection test, rapid antigen tests detect the presence or absence of antigens on a point-of-care basis. They look for these antigens that are substances that cause the body to produce an immune response- this triggers the generation of antibodies. These tests use lab-made antibodies to search for the Antigens from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

These tests can be done in a clinic, mobile lab, doctors office, hospital. You can also take the rapid antigen test from home. With turnout time for results being very quick, (with OnPoint Testing giving back results in 1 hour!) the results take less than 24 hours.  However, due to the quick turnaround, these tests are not as accurate as PCR testing. 


Although in the end, both do test to see if a patient has COVID-19 or not, there are still some differences between the two. For instance, a PCR test needs a special technician to get results however any medical assistant could get the results from an Antigen test. A PCR test is also more accurate, but at the cost of it being more expensive as well as taking longer to get results. An Antigen test takes a shorter time to get results and is overall cheaper, with a tradeoff being that it is slightly less accurate.


Ultimately, both are excellent indicators to find out if a patient has COVID-19 or not, and it’s essentially up to preference which one the patient would like. However, OnPoint Testing does offer PCR testing at select locations, as well as Antigen testing for an affordable cost. Be sure to book an appointment with us today to get tested

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