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Choosing the best COVID-19 test may depend on a person's circumstances, doctor explains

Dr. Sujatha Reddy explains what each person should consider when taking a COVID test.

ATLANTA — As the COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant continue to rise, so does the demand for tests. Many are choosing between the PCR test, which is typically given at a pharmacy or clinic, and rapid or antigen tests.

Dr. Sujatha Reddy explained choosing the best test may depend on a person's circumstances.

“What the nasal tests are doing is looking for pieces or particles of the actual virus. And the rapid test, or so-called the antigen tests, are a little bit less sensitive, meaning not as accurate as the PCR test,” Dr. Reddy said.

The antigen test looks for a substance a patient's body creates as an immunity response to illness. Many are not sold over the counter and can be taken at home. Something Reddy said to consider when deciding which test to take is whether you plan to travel.

“For air travel, they very often require the PCR for entrance into other countries," she explained.

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PCR tests can also take a few days for results because the samples must be sent to a lab. For those who are simply concerned because they might be sick or want to spend time with vulnerable friends and relatives, Reddy said an antigen test will work just fine.

She also said there are extra steps a person can take if they are not as sure about the results of an antigen test.

“If you get a negative but still have this nagging doubt, it might be worth to retest in a day or two to see if more time gives you more virus or go look for that PCR, if you’re symptomatic or worried that might be the right thing to do," Reddy added.

She also explained that given the demand, she knows tests are hard to come by. But, Reddy reinforced that a positive test is a positive and patients should trust the result of the test they have chosen.