PCR Testing Vs Rapid Antigen Testing
The COVID-19 outbreak arisen from the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. From that day on COVID-19 diagnostics was one of the most fundamental needs in the pandemic. Testing provides not only reducing people’s anxiety or taking early precautions but also gives scientists and researchers helpful information regarding trends, developing mutations, and preparing possible future health crises. Two broad categories of testing are currently available for the detection of infection with SARS-CoV-2 or most known as COVID-19, namely real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing and rapid antigen testing. In this article, we will go over a comparison between these two testing methods in terms of advantages and disadvantages.
Real-time polymerase reaction (RT-PCR) testing and Rapid antigen testing by definition
Before any comparison, we should answer what they are by definition. First, real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing refers to a molecular-based technique. It works by the amplification and the detection of pathogenic – viral – genome RNA. Rapid antigen testing, on the other hand, refers to a technique measuring the presence of SARS-CoV-2 specific pathogenic – viral – antigens. Rapid antigen tests (RATs) involve quick point-of-care (POC) diagnostic tests recently used to identify the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral antigens. Point-of-care testing (POCT) means a type of analysis in which delivery of medical care is close to or in the vicinity of the patient. Although several hospitals used to employ point-of-care (POC) systems, rapid testing seldom made national news until the COVID-19 outbreak started. Both real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests and rapid antigen tests present their own benefits and disadvantages.
Comparison of two testing methods: on advantages and disadvantages
On one hand, there is a consideration about that real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests are the “gold standard” in the identification of SARS-CoV-2. They constitute the most accurate testing option. Through the detection of SARS-CoV-2 specific genetic material, the employment of laboratory methods, and expert interpretation, real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests are able to detect the infection even within asymptomatic individuals and those with a low viral load with a high level of accuracy. In comparison to real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, rapid antigen tests offer less accuracy. However rapid antigen tests are also able to screen asymptomatic cases with high viral load, and their accuracy is amplified by frequent testing.
On the other hand, procedures such as quality control, employment of laboratory methods, and expert interpretation significantly increase the cost of real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests require the use of more complex material, professional equipment, and expert supervision. All these requirements set blocks in front of controlling the spread of the COVID-19 global pandemic by mass screening programs. It is because the more the complexity, the more the time. Rapid antigen tests, however, can be conducted with simpler and portable equipment such as lateral flow immunoassay. The name of lateral flow immunoassay can seem such a complex and sophisticated method, however, the word “lateral flow immunoassay” defines simple instruments that detect the presence of a liquid sample of a target chemical or biochemical without the requirement of specialist and expensive equipment.
Suitability for mass screening
The simplicity of the method of rapid antigen test enables us to bring critical solutions against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of them is the mass screening strategies. You can purchase rapid antigen tests on the counter and online. All the material necessary and instructions for the test process are given in the product box. After a rapid antigen test kit is purchased, there is no need for an extra lab environment. So, this shows how rapid antigen testing is simple.
The concept of mass screening is also dependent on the time requires for the test result. Moreover, real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests consist of several procedural steps, whereas rapid antigen tests are often one-step procedures. Consequently, rapid antigen tests deliver results significantly quicker than real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests. Indeed, while real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing delivers results within 6 to 18 hours, real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test procedure can take a long time as much as three days within a busy interval, rapid antigen testing can deliver results as quick as 10 to 30 minutes. The simplicity, portability, and affordability of rapid antigen tests enable onsite infection screening.
In consequence, real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests are relatively more expensive to manufacture and purchase. Therefore, rapid antigen tests are easily applicable for regular testing within congregate environments such as schools, offices, and industrial facilities. Recently, rapid antigen tests have also been made accessible as at-home self-test kits. Employment of rapid antigen tests, therefore, facilitates broader accessibility and immediate isolation. In addition, they also reduce the risk of infection faced by healthcare personnel and other people. It is because asymptomatic individuals spread the virus unknowingly by using public transport, joining events including a concert and theatres. There are four main advantages of rapid antigen tests. There are rapid results, simplified methods, cost-effectiveness, and no need for a lab environment and extra lab equipment. In short, altogether make it come true that mass screening. This plays a key and crucial role in taking control of the COVID-19 spread.
What we understand
The real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests provide higher levels of accuracy in the detection of COVID-19 infection. However, they are more costly, laborious, and slower procedures. The widespread use of rapid antigen tests might assist to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection. It serves to avoid unwitting dissemination of the virus by promptly notifying people to access self-quarantine and early care and allowing affected persons. In addition, rapid antigen testing can help society recover a sense of normality by allowing individuals to identify if symptoms arise due to a common cold or COVID-19 infection. Rapid antigen testing is effective for fast mass screening. Rapid antigen testing, with the incorporation of real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing as a confirmatory method and frequent testing, constitutes a more affordable and quicker option.