PCR Testing or Antigen? Which is right for me?

At ExpressMED/BOAC, we are pleased to offer both Rapid PCR testing and Rapid Antigen testing options, as well as lab-based PCR testing. All of our tests require an appointment, but with rapid results in under an hour, you’re guaranteed to get the results you need to get back to work, school or ready for travel.

The questions we get most often seem to be, “What’s the difference between PCR or Antigen testing,” and, “Which one do I need?” So, we’ve compiled some information from verified sources to help you determine which test you should opt for. As always, we recommend you speak with a licensed medical provider if you have any questions.

ExpressMED/BOAC offers rapid PCR, rapid Antigen and lab-based PCR testing for COVID-19 at clinics in Salem and Downtown Manchester.
ExpressMED/BOAC offers rapid PCR, rapid Antigen and lab-based PCR testing for COVID-19 at clinics in Salem and Downtown Manchester.

If you want to schedule a test, please contact our Salem, NH clinic (603-898-0961) or Downtown Manchester, NH clinic (603-627-8053). Testing is available during normal business hours (Monday-Friday, 8am-7pm or Saturday 9am-4pm).

Lab-based PCR testing or Antigen testing can be billed to insurance. Rapid PCR testing is self-pay.

To help you understand the difference between PCR or Antigen testing, please read the following information from the FDA on the difference between these two types of test options and what they mean.

The following information comes from the FDA:

Types of Tests

There are different types of tests – diagnostic tests and antibody tests.

Diagnostic tests can show if you have an active COVID-19 infection and need to take steps to quarantine or isolate yourself from others. Molecular and antigen tests are types of diagnostic tests than can detect if you have an active COVID-19 infection. Samples for diagnostic tests are typically collected with a nasal or throat swab, or saliva collected by spitting into a tube.

Antibody tests look for antibodies in your immune system produced in response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibody tests should not be used to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. Antibodies can take several days or weeks to develop after you have an infection and may stay in your blood for several weeks or more after recovery. Samples for antibody tests are typically blood from a finger stick, or blood drawn by your doctor or other medical personnel.

Getting Tested

If you are tested, you should quarantine and isolate yourself at home until you receive your test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional.

When should I get a test?

  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19, even after vaccination
  • If you have had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more) with someone with confirmed COVID-19, even after vaccination
  • If you took part in activities that put you at higher risk for COVID-19 because you could not socially distance as needed, such as travel, attending large social or mass gatherings, or being in crowded indoor settings
  • If you have been asked or referred to get tested by your health care provider, or localExternal Link Disclaimer or state health department

Your school, workplace or community may also establish a screening program, in which they test individuals who are part of a group (at work, at school) even if there is no reason to suspect those individuals are infected with COVID-19. The FDA issued more information about screening programs in this fact sheet.

To find a local testing site, you should contact your health care provider or go to your stateor localExternal Link Disclaimer health department’s website.

Do COVID-19 tests check for the omicron, delta and other variants?

Currently, COVID-19 tests are designed and authorized to check broadly for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and not for specific variants, sometimes called SARS-CoV-2 viral mutations or genetic mutations. It is common for all viruses to change and mutate over time, resulting in different virus strains. There are no authorized COVID-19 tests that specifically report the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 omicron, delta, or other variants, in patient samples. 

The FDA’s SARS-CoV-2 Viral Mutations: Impact on COVID-19 Tests webpage provides technical information about certain COVID-19 tests for which the FDA has identified potential impacts on performance due to SARS-CoV-2 viral mutations. The FDA works closely with test developers to identify potential impacts of viral mutations on FDA authorized COVID-19 tests and help ensure there is minimal impact on test performance when new variants arise.

Local, state, and federal public health agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), track the SARS-CoV-2 viral variants so we can understand which strains of the virus are spreading. These public health agencies use a test called whole genome sequencing to check for virus strains circulating in the community overall and not for each person.

Health care providers treat patients who have COVID-19 based on the patient’s diagnosis and symptoms and not based on the strain of virus. For more information on treatment options see Know Your Treatment Options for COVID-19 and discuss your symptoms with a health care provider.