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What’s The Difference Between A “Molecular” Covid Test And A “Antigen” Covid Test, And Does It Matter?

There are two main types of COVID-19 tests. Most of us know or have done a molecular tests, such as PCR tests. This test detects the tiniest bits of genetic code specific to SARS-CoV-2.  

Molecular tests such as the PCR are highly accurate and are very good at picking up a true infection but are expensive, often have a several day lag in reporting and require a lab.  

At this stage in the pandemic where omicron is spreading so quickly, a quicker result will provide guidance sooner. An antigen test detects proteins that the virus produces, such as a specific protein on one of its namesake “corona” spikes.  Antigen tests are rapid (15 minutes typically) and can be done at home. There are several makers including Abbot and on/go.   

While Antigen tests have less sensitivity, meaning detecting a true positive compared to a RT- PCR test, they are excellent for detecting the virus especially if there is high viral load.

Which test should you do? , currently do the one you have access to. Both types of test are tough to get since the spike in cases due to the omicron variant.  If you have workplace requirements, you will need to obtain that test. Many schools are now running weekly PCR tests or giving out rapid antigen tests to families.

If you think you have been exposed or know that you are a close contact, follow the CDC guidelines for isolating and look for an appointment for a PCR test or if you have a rapid test at home, go ahead and run that on yourself.  

Here is additional information on the types of testing.  Be safe, wear a mask and if you feel sick try to get tested If you need further advice please reach out to The Village Doctor team.

Prerana Sangani, MD January 12, 2022