Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) Versus Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test

As we come to terms with living with COVID-19 and its different variants, it’s important to understand the different types of tests available to detect COVID-19 – which is better, more practical, more accurate.

Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) are quick and easy and can be used to help find COVID-19 in people before symptoms appear. RAT tests can also be used as a step before PCR testing as an indicator of a potential COVID infection. These saliva or nasal tests are done at home, in workplaces, educational facilities, or other settings and are not tested in laboratories. RAT testing is not covered under the Australian Government Medicare Benefits Scheme but is tax deductible. The important thing to remember is that a Rapid Antigen Test can only tell you if you may have COVID-19 and does not confirm you have COVID-19.

A standard Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test is a diagnostic test which will confirm if someone has COVID-19. This is the type of test that is done at testing clinics across Australia and involves a deep nasal and throat sample that is tested in laboratories. The PCR is covered under the Australian Government Medicare Benefits Scheme.

One of the advantages of the Rapid Antigen Test includes a fast turnaround time with test results available in 15 to 30 minutes depending on the brand being used.

Reliability of results is also essential, so it is important to understand how the test works. Rapid Antigen Tests need thousands of coronavirus particles present in every microlitre of sampled saliva or mucous to show a positive result, which can lead to an issue with the timing of the test. For example, if the test is performed too early i.e., within the first five days of the infection where a high level of virus may not be present, this can lead to false negatives.

Rapid Antigen Testing is useful only if someone has high concentrations of the virus. This testing method tends to miss infections with low viral loads and is therefore insufficient for diagnosing or ruling out a COVID-19 infection conclusively.

Unlike Rapid Antigen Tests, PCR tests can detect the presence of the virus even at very low concentrations, hence why a PCR test is used to make a definite diagnosis of COVID-19. A health professional is required to take a sample of mucous for analysis which is then sent to a laboratory to look for the genetic material making up the coronavirus itself.

The Verdict – RAT versus PCR Test?

After considering all advantages and disadvantages of both PCR and RAT, for screening, Rapid Antigen Testing is good, but for a clear diagnosis, the PCR is best.

Winc can help you with everything your workplace needs to support a safer return to work for your employees. Pre-order Rapid Antigen Tests online now or speak with our Health, Hygiene and Safety Hub or your Winc Account Manager to find out more.