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What you need to know about the different COVID-19 tests

Right now, there are three different types of coronavirus tests: molecular, antigen and antibody. Only two can detect the virus in an actively infected person.

HOUSTON — With the pandemic pressing on, it seems like every day there’s more testing, and sometimes, even new tests.

We want to break down the difference among the tests out there and what you need to know before you try to get one.

Right now, there are three tests you need to know about. Two of them test for coronavirus in an actively infected person. The other one is for after the fact. It tests to see if you’ve had the virus in the past. 

First, let’s start with the two tests that actually diagnose the virus. There’s the molecular test and the antigen test. Both are usually collected by a nasal swab.

How does the COVID-19 molecular test work?

The molecular test detects genetic material of the virus. It’s also called a PCR test because of the lab technique that’s used.

The bottom line: it’s the more accurate test, but can sometimes take longer for the results to come back. 

It can be analyzed on site within minutes, but sometimes that’s less accurate. 

Credit: KHOU
The molecular test detects genetic material of the virus. It’s also called a PCR test because of the lab technique that’s used.

How does the COVID-19 antigen test, or 'rapid' test work?

The other test is the antigen test. It detects proteins that are part of the virus.

It’s considered a 'rapid' test. This test is faster and less expensive than the molecular test, but also can be less accurate. 

Signature Care ER administers this test. They say a positive result is considered 100% accurate, but a negative result is 80% accurate. 

Credit: KHOU
The other test is the antigen test. It detects proteins that are part of the virus.

How does the COVID-19 antibody test work?

The final test is an antibody test. This is done after a person fully recovers from the virus. 

Instead of a nasal swab, the test is taken through blood, usually a finger prick. 

It’s used to determine if someone has had the virus, but, timing on this can be tricky. If you take it too soon, the antibodies may not show up. 

But this test also comes with a warning: Even if antibodies are in your blood, that doesn’t mean you are immune to contracting the virus.

Credit: KHOU
The final test is an antibody test. This is done after a person fully recovers from the virus.

Ongoing studies are still working to see how long immunity will last. 

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