How Does The PCR Process Work And Why Is It Used In Covid Testing?

The pandemic has forced the general public to become more familiar with many health terms and processes, including PCR testing. How does the PCR process detect Covid-19, and which type of test is right for you? Keep reading to learn more.

Understanding the PCR process

Although many of us only heard the term “PCR test” as a result of the pandemic, this testing method has been a reliable diagnostic process for decades. PCR is short for “polymerase chain reaction,” a process utilized to:

  • Detect genetic changes which may lead to disease
  • Diagnose certain types of transmissible diseases
  • Find cancer cells that may not be detected in other tests

The PCR process works by taking the genetic material from a sample and copying it multiple times in a method known as amplification. Doing this means that even a very small amount of viruses and pathogens can be detected by the PCR process.

For illnesses made up of RNA rather than DNA, such as Covid-19, the RNA must first be converted to DNA, known as the reverse transcription PCR process (RT-PCR).

PCR tests require a sample taken using one of the following methods:

  • Blood draw
  • Nasal swab
  • Throat swab
  • Saliva collection (spitting into a cup)

The PCR process and Covid-19

The RT-PCR test for Covid-19 is considered the “gold standard” in detecting Covid-19.

The traditional RT-PCR requires lab processing with a turnaround time averaging 24-72 hours. This test is available from healthcare providers, or as DIY kits you can purchase at your local pharmacy that allow you to mail samples into a lab. DIY kits may not be as accurate as a test from a healthcare provider due to samples being affected by how they are collected and stored.

The rapid PCR test process offers a similar accuracy to the RT-PCR, but in a fraction of the time (typically 15-45 minutes). These tests can be processed onsite by a healthcare professional without lab processing. These tests are slightly less sensitive than RT-PCR tests, meaning they may miss an infection in its earliest or latest stages that the RT-PCR test would catch, but still boast accuracy over 95%.

Rapid antigen tests detect viral proteins, rather than the virus itself, which make them less sensitive than the PCR process.

What should I expect from the PCR process for Covid-19?

A PCR test for Covid-19 typically requires either a nasal or throat swab. They may also be given as a saliva collection test.
For DIY tests, you administer the swab yourself per the instructions that come with the test and mail them in. Once the results are processed, you can access them online to find out whether or not the results were positive.

  • RT-PCR tests administered by a healthcare provider means they will perform the nasal or throat swab for you, ensuring the sample is properly collected. The medical expert will then ensure the sample is properly stored and safely transported to a lab for PCR processing.
  • Rapid PCR tests are only available through certain healthcare providers. A nasal swab or throat swab is conducted by a healthcare expert who then completes the PCR process using portable lab equipment.
  • The emerging Cepheid 4-plex tests are designed to test for multiple illnesses at one time, including Covid-19, Flu strains A and B, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). These tests are only available from certain healthcare providers, who will collect samples and process results onsite in about 30 minutes. They were developed to quickly diagnose or rule out all four of these viruses at once. You should ask your preferred healthcare provider if these tests are available in your area.

In-home tests: a safer and more convenient option

If you don’t want to visit a clinic or local testing site and also don’t want to deal with DIY test kits, a private medical service can bring your appointment to you.

A Registered Nurse will come to your home and administer a RT-PCR or rapid PCR test. (Cepheid 4-plex is also available at select locations.) Depending on which test you choose, an expert will either process results onsite or carefully bring your sample to a lab for processing.
In the event you test positive, your nurse can give you advice on what to do next to stay healthy and keep your loved ones safe.

Let Drip Hydration Bring The PCR Process To You

Drip Hydration offers mobile PCR testing services for the most convenient and practical testing experience. Whether you need a PCR test to fulfill travel requirements, or because you have developed flu-like symptoms, we can help streamline the process.

Busy families can especially benefit from our services and take advantage of our progressive group discounts. You can schedule an appointment for multiple people to be tested at once, meaning you can get the whole family tested without multiple appointments or unnecessary exposure to Covid-19 in the process of getting tested.

Covid safety doesn’t have to be a hassle this holiday season – call or click the button below to make an appointment today!