What’s the difference between PCRantigen & antibody testing for COVID-19?  

Ever since 2020 happened, loads of COVID-19 tests have become available… but don’t they all test the same thing? Is there really a difference? Does it actually matter?  

The various COVID-19 tests on the market are definitely NOT the same thing. It’s important to understand these differences to ensure the lab result is interpreted correctly. Especially if the results are yours or belong to someone you care about.  

The main three tests on the market are (1) molecular tests, (2) antigen tests and (3) antibody tests. From now on we’ll refer to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease called COVID-19.  

 


Molecular vs. Antigen vs. Antibody


 

SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Molecular Tests Explained 

 

Of the 3 main types of testing, molecular is the most common.  

These tests use a nasal, nasopharyngeal (the super deep and uncomfortable one) or saliva sample to look for the genetic blueprint of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The blueprint is its RNA or ribonucleic acid 

These molecular, or nucleic acid tests are the gold standard. The greater medical community considers them the best because they can take a very tiny amount of RNA and amplify it with a process that makes tons of copies. These duplicates help identify if SARS-CoV-2 is present or not.   

This amplification process is called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Don’t be fooled by the media – PCR technology is not new. It’s been used for many years to diagnose infectious diseases. Due to the complexity of the PCR method, these tests are usually sent off to a laboratory.    

Molecular testing is the gold standard.

Advantages & Disadvantages of PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2  

 

PCR’s increased complexity offersome serious advantages. Here’s why it’s worth the extra time in the lab 

The PCR method is considered highly accurate. You can trust that a positive or negative result is correct. All clinical tests come with a certain sensitivity, and these top the list.  

What’s the major limitation, you ask? PCR tests are SO good at detecting the virus that you may continue to have a positive SARS-CoV-2 test for weeks after you’re infected – even though you’re nocontagious anymore 

To cut a short story long, it is crucial that you consult a physician if you have COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a doctor.  

SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Tests Explained 

 

Antigen tests are the most common rapid tests. Results come back in a matter of minutes. But is faster actually better?  

These tests look for the virus capsid, which functions as an envelope or shell around the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While this method is appealing because of the super fast turnaround time, there are critical trade-offs to understand.  

Consider this: most antigen testing performs well only in the first few days after symptoms begin. A positive antigen test is considered highly accurate, but a negative test is not considered accurate  

Negative tests should be followed up with molecular PCR test to confirm a truly negative resultParticularly if you’re putting others at risk around you.  

SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Tests Explained 

 

Antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2 are also available throughout the US 

These tests detect if the immune system has responded to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the past. It shows if you’ve been exposed to the virus.   

Testing for antibodies doesn’t reveal if you’re currently infected. But here’s the kicker: antibody tests don’t tell you if you’re immune to COVID-19.  

Wcurrently don’t understand enough about the virus or our immune system response to draw this conclusion... yet.

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What SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) test should I order?  

 

Overall, the best way to get an accurate result is to order a molecular PCR test. Both positive and negative results are trustworthy  

Antigen and antibody testing certainly play an important role in fighting this pandemic. But do your homework before purchasing.  

    1. First, cut through the marketing jargon. Be sure you can differentiate PCR, antigen and antibody testing 
    2. Second, read up on the clinician, company or laboratory selling you the product. Is the test FDA authorized? Is the lab CLIA certified? Does the brand have credibility?  
    3. Third, compare turnaround time, eligibility and price. After your sample has shipped, does it take 2 days to get results or up to 7 days? Will they let you get SARS-CoV-2 testing even if you don’t have symptoms? Is the price comparable to similar tests on the market?  

 

No matter what route you take, testing will always bring you one step closer to thriving. What one step are you planning to take?

References

FREE COVID-19 CHECKLIST

There are several helpful things you can do to protect yourself and others. Follow this free checklist while you’re waiting on your test results.

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