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Which test is best?

If you need to get tested for COVID-19, what are your options?

fully gowned man preparing a COVID-19 swab test to give someone inside their car

You've been exposed to COVID-19. Now what?

While the virus has been dominating headlines, the path to positive (or negative) can still be confusing for those who need to get tested. Are all tests the same, or does one stand out above the rest?

Two of the most common testing options are the PCR test and the antigen test, both of which are typically administered through a nasal swab.

Shalika Katugaha, MD, system medical director of Infectious Diseases at Baptist Health, outlined the differences between the two in the infographic below.

infographic describing the descritpion, benefits and disadvantages of the PCR Test and Antigen Test

Dr. Katugaha explained, "PCR tests amplify the virus; antigen tests do not. That means there needs to be enough virus protein in the sample to produce a positive antigen test. In the early stages of infection, there isn't a lot of virus in the nose and throat, so a rapid test can miss it, especially right after exposure."

She provided the following tips for choosing your tests:

Take a rapid antigen test if:

  • You don't have a recent exposure, are asymptomatic and need to gather in a group for work or travel.
  • You have symptoms. If the rapid antigen test is positive, you very likely have the virus and should let your physician know and isolate. You don't need to confirm with a PCR.  If you have symptoms and test negative, you should have a PCR test done.

Take a PCR test if:

  • You were exposed and are concerned because you need to be in a group for work or other reasons.
  • You have symptoms, even if a rapid antigen test was negative.

If you test positive for COVID-19, even if you are asymptomatic, you should isolate for 5 days to protect your loved ones and the community.

Criteria for testing may vary by location. A full list of testing sites in Jacksonville is available at jaxready.com/covidtesting.

At Baptist Health, we want to help keep our community informed about COVID-19. For information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit baptistjax.com/covid19vaccine.

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