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The Difference Between Rapid Antigen Tests and RT-PCR Tests

The COVID-19 virus has shaken the world and destabilized many things. Life as we know it has changed as wearing masks and keeping your distance become the normal order of the day. The virus has continued to be highly contagious from the first time the outbreak was reported, with new variants arising. Sadly, many people across the globe have succumbed to the virus, with many getting infected and sustaining long-term medical complications.

There is much that scientists are trying to figure out about the virus. Though proper handwashing can help prevent the spread of COVID, a lot still needs to be done in order to avoid the spread. Currently, many countries are setting up vaccination after various vaccines received approval from the CDC and WHO. To prevent the further spread of dangerous variants, testing and isolating the affected cases are very important. The main types of tests of SARS-CoV-2 are rapid antigen and RT-PCR tests. We are going to look at these tests in detail.


In this era of COVID, if you want to travel from one country to another, you will need a negative test. One of the tests you can choose is the RT-PCR test which refers to Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction. It is the most recommended type of test as it effective in tracing infections for people with influenza-like symptoms.

The RT-PCR test for COVID 19 has the ability to identify patients with the virus by 69%. However, you need a professional to collect the samples as it can lead to false positives. It also uses Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase Diagnostic Panels to detect the presence of viral RNA, making it quire accurate. Once the swabs are collected, they are evaluated for reagents helping identify the presence or lack thereof of the virus.

Using this test detects the virus presence before developing symptoms where the person can be isolated, stopping further spread of the virus. If you test positive, you are advised to self-isolate, check your vitals, eat healthily and take any recommended medication. People with underlying conditions should watch out for any changes in their symptoms to receive timely medical intervention.

Rapid Antigen Test

Are you already experiencing Covid-19 symptoms? This is the test that you will most likely receive. The samples are collected from the nose and the throat, and you can receive the results within 30 minutes. However, the test is not considered to very accurate. This is because the test does not analyze the vital coronavirus proteins present at the early stages. If you get a negative rapid antigen test, the physician can recommend that you test again after a couple of days to rule out the presence of the virus fully.

Coronavirus Testing: Difference Between the Tests

Though one can go for the rapid antigen test, one can be required to take the RT-PCR test for accuracy. Additionally, many airlines require you to have an RT-PCR test for you to travel.

  • The RT-PCR test gives the results between 1 and 2 days, whereas the rapid antigen test takes 30 minutes.
  • The RT-PCR test detects the RNA ( the virus genetic material) while the antigen test detects proteins.
  • If you want a more accurate test, go for the RT-PCR test.
  • The antigen test is less expensive than the RT PCR test.
  • The RT PCR test sample is highly sensitive compared to the antigen swab.

Who Needs a Coronavirus Test?

You can get tested for covid-19 if you are experiencing symptoms or have found yourself in the following situations:

  • If you have interacted with people with cold, headache, cough, fever, fatigue, or shortness of breath and have a travel history.
  • If you have been in touch with symptomatic people or those confirmed to have the coronavirus.
  • If you experience severe acute respiratory infection.
  • If you are in an area with high coronavirus cases.

The responsibility for helping stop the spread of coronavirus falls on every one of us. We can ensure we are fulfilling this obligation by testing for the virus when we suspect we are infected and isolating to prevent the spread. Your doctor can recommend the best test at any given time. In the meantime, to stop the spread of the virus, stay at home as much as you can, avoid crowded places, wear masks when out of the house and wash your hands regularly.