What Is the Difference Between a PCR and a Rapid COVID-19 Test?

We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic is a big deal. With cases popping up worldwide, knowing how to protect yourself and your loved ones is essential. But what if you're one of the unlucky people who catch the virus? How can you be sure that you're getting the best treatment possible? Today, we'll discuss the difference between PCR and rapid COVID-19 tests.

Stay safe out there!

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, is a highly infectious disease that first appeared in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It primarily spreads through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing and can cause symptoms such as fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

What is the importance of testing for COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven just how crucial testing is in understanding and controlling the spread of a viral outbreak. Testing helps to identify individuals who may unknowingly be carrying and spreading the virus, allowing them to isolate and reduce transmission. It also allows for tracking new cases and hot spot areas, allowing for targeted interventions such as lockdowns or increased safety measures.

Testing can also help to inform critical decisions about returning to work or school and determine which individuals are likely contagious or at risk for severe illness. Without adequate testing, it would be almost impossible to contain the spread of this disease and protect public health.

In addition, testing is critical in ongoing efforts to develop effective vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Overall, testing is essential for our ability to respond effectively to this global health crisis.

The differences between PCR and rapid tests

Let's explore the differences between PCR and rapid COVID-19 tests.


A PCR test is more sensitive than a rapid COVID-19 test, meaning that it can detect the presence of the virus even at low concentrations. This makes it ideal for detecting early infection or relapse in patients who have previously tested positive for the virus.

Strain detection

A PCR test can detect multiple virus strains, whereas a rapid COVID-19 test can only detect one strain simultaneously. In some cases, PCR tests may be more accurate and practical than rapid COVID-19 tests, particularly if the patient has been exposed to multiple virus strains.

Result time

Because they are more sensitive, PCR tests typically require more time than rapid COVID-19 tests. This means they often need to be more suitable when a quick and accurate diagnosis is critical, such as in an emergency room.

Rapid COVID-19 tests can indicate whether or not a patient has the virus within about 30 minutes of taking the test. In contrast, a PCR test must be run for several hours before a result can be obtained, and even then, it may not provide an accurate reading.

Simplicity of use

Rapid COVID-19 tests are more straightforward than PCR tests and don't require specialized equipment or training to administer. This makes them ideal for situations where rapid results are needed, such as screening patients for COVID-19 in healthcare settings or at airports.


Rapid COVID-19 tests are less expensive than PCR tests, making them an attractive option for use on a broader scale in developing countries and other areas with limited healthcare resources.

Patient overview

PCR tests provide more detailed information about the patient's medical history, such as the strain of the virus that is present. In contrast, a rapid COVID-19 test only indicates whether or not the patient has a positive result for the virus then.


Rapid COVID-19 tests are more convenient to use in some situations than PCR tests, as they can be administered at the patient's bedside rather than requiring a blood sample to be sent off for testing.

Scale of use

Due to their cheaper and simpler nature, rapid COVID-19 tests are often used on a much broader scale than PCR tests to prevent and control disease outbreaks. This allows public health officials to detect the virus much earlier, which is critical for containing and minimizing the impact of outbreaks.

The bottom line

Rapid COVID-19 tests are less sensitive than PCR tests and may not always provide accurate results. This means they should be used with caution, remarkably if the patient's symptoms or medical history suggest a more severe condition.

Overall, while PCR tests and rapid COVID-19 tests have many different features and applications, they are both valuable tools that can play critical roles in the effort to prevent, detect, and control disease outbreaks.

Which test is most appropriate for a patient will depend on their symptoms, medical history, and the specific situation that they are in. For this reason, it is always best to consult your doctor or other healthcare providers such as Visby medical if you have questions about which test may be most appropriate for you or someone else.

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