Two different COVID-19 tests can produce different results.
And both could be right.
That’s the gist of this test confusion.
It turns out they each have their own role in measuring your COVID-19 status.
“There is a lot of confusion out there. And it’s actually very confusing, even for us who’ve been doing this for a few years,” said Dr. Kami Kim, director of Infectious Diseases at the University of South Florida.
Kim is an infectious disease specialist doing her best to demystify COVID testing.
The PCR test is considered the gold standard of COVID-19 testing. It is extremely accurate at detecting infections and determines with the most certainty whether or not you have contracted COVID-19.
“The virus is an RNA virus. So the PCR test is an ultra-sensitive test that can pick up small amounts of the virus RNA,” Kim said.
While the antigen test, the usual rapid test you could do at home, is less robust in identifying COVID-19. It looks for proteins or antigens released by an active virus.
As the virus declines, there is less material to measure.
“Since the infection is clearing up, the antigen test will be negative more quickly, right? So because it’s a little less sensitive there,” Kim said.
Every form of testing has value.
The PCR is better at confirming the virus that can remain in your system for weeks after the symptoms have gone away.
The antigen is less sensitive and searches for shedding virus.
If a negative test is required, the PCR may not give the best reading of contamination.
“It’s great for diagnosis, but it’s not so great for telling you if the virus is contagious,” Kim said.
The fastest option and the key to returning to public life may depend on choosing the quick result.
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