What’s the difference between a PCR and antigen COVID-19 test? A molecular biologist explains

Image

(Spanish language version: https://theconversation.com/pruebas-covid-de-pcr-o-antigenos-conoce-cuales-son-las-diferencias-173483)

At this point in the pandemic, you or someone you know has probably received at least one COVID-19 test. But do you know which kind of test you got and the strengths and weaknesses of these different tests?

I’m a molecular biologist, and since April 2020 I’ve been part of a team working on a National Institutes of Health-funded program called RADx that is helping innovators develop rapid tests to detect when a person is infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Two major types of tests are used to diagnose infection with SARS-CoV-2: molecular tests – better known as PCR tests – and antigen tests. Each detects a different part of the virus, and how it works influences the test’s speed and relative accuracy. So what are the differences between these types of tests?

CTSA Program In Action Goals
Goal 1: Train and Cultivate the Translational Science Workforce
Goal 2: Engage Patients and Communities in Every Phase of the Translational Process
Goal 4: Innovate Processes to Increase the Quality and Efficiency of Translational Research, Particularly of Multisite Trials