How does Antigen Testing differ from PCR testing?
For Rapid Antigen Testing, the tester will use a swab to take a sample from a person’s nose. This may be uncomfortable but it should not be painful. The sample can then be quickly tested and can have results within 15 minutes.
With a PCR test, a sample is taken from inside the back of the throat and nose using a swab. Like with an antigen test, this process can be somewhat uncomfortable. The sample then needs to be sent to a laboratory to be tested.
The result of an antigen test is generally available in less than an hour, and it can be as quick as 15 minutes.
However, getting the result of a PCR test takes significantly longer. At its quickest, a result could be available within a few hours but it is far more likely to take a number of days, or even up to a week.
While antigen testing can be much quicker than PCR testing, it is less accurate.
As the HSE points out though, no test is 100% accurate and all tests have limitations.
A PCR test is able to detect a COVID-19 infection even before the person becomes infectious. PCR testing can detect very small amounts of virus levels.
A rapid antigen test, on the other hand, reveals patients at the peak of the infection when the body has the highest concentration of viral proteins. The test will find the virus in most people who have symptoms but, in some cases, it may not pick up the virus at all.
Antigen testing is considerably cheaper than PCR testing.
With private Antigen tests costing as low as €5 per test, Pcr testing can cost as high as €120-€150 per test.
Antigen test should not replace Pcr testing but should be used in conjunction with it. If Antigen tests are used more widely on a day-to-day basis many cases will be found and avoid any outbreaks in workplaces and social settings.
Many countries around Europe are using Antigen testing in social settings such as gyms, restaurants, and large public gatherings like festivals and sporting events to avoid any unwanted outbreaks in the community.