What Is the PCR Test and How Is It Done?
The most accurate COVID-19 test is the PCR test; the complete form is a polymerase chain reaction test. It's a reliable COVID test for diagnosing whether a person has an active SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The PCR test is considered the gold standard test so let’s look at more details about the test and how it is performed.
What Is the PCR Test?
A PCR test is conducted to detect certain genetic material or RNA from a virus and see if that virus is present in the body. The test comes under the category of molecular tests and is used to find out if a person is currently infected at the time when the sample was collected.
To conduct the PCR test, the genetic material of the virus is isolated and then copied multiple times. This genetic material is used to identify traces of the virus, and the copying process allows the test to detect even the smallest trace of the virus in the sample.
Since the PCR test is more accurate than other tests, you might be asked to take this test by health care professionals if you show symptoms of COVID-19 or if you’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.
In other cases, a medical practitioner might ask you to take a molecular test after you’ve taken a rapid antigen test to confirm the results.
How Is the Test Performed?
The PCR test is performed by collecting a small sample from either the nose or the throat of a person. If your medical professional is taking a swab from your nose, they will insert a small cotton bud into one of your nostrils, leave it in place for a few seconds, then turn it one or two times to ensure the sample is collected. Sometimes, the healthcare providers insert the swab into both nostrils to ascertain that the cotton has absorbed the fluid sample.
Some people feel slight discomfort or pain during the swab test, especially if the cotton needs to be inserted deeper into the nostril to reach the nasopharynx, an area behind the nose.
The test may make your eyes water or cause you to flinch or gag, and these are all normal reactions. The test only takes a few minutes, and there are no lasting side effects or pain.
Specific molecular tests such as the rapid antigen test can also collect a fluid sample from a person's saliva. This kind of test requires you to spit into a test tube until a sufficient quantity of saliva is collected.
Understanding the Test Results
The turnaround time for the PCR test depends on the testing center, the laboratory, or the hospital where the test was performed. It can be anywhere between 30 minutes to three working days.
The test result will be either positive or negative. If it's positive, this means you have an active SARS-CoV-2 infection and need to self-isolate as per FDA regulations. If the test is negative, you are clear of any genetic materials in your body, and you don’t have COVID-19.