What is the difference between a rapid antigen test and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test?

A PCR test is one of the most widely used lab tests for finding viruses. The PCR test tells you if the virus is detected (positive) or not (negative). The PCR test is the ‘gold standard’ of testing for COVID-19 because it can successfully detect small amounts of the virus with a low chance for error. The collection method is a nose swab, which is inserted deep into a person’s nose. Lab-based PCR testing for COVID-19 is available for high-risk individuals and settings. Visit ontario.ca for a full list of eligible groups.

A rapid antigen test is a test that detects specific proteins on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. These tests can be done at home, work, or school and results can be reported in 15 minutes.

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This item was last modified on December 19, 2023

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