Know the differences between rapid antigen tests before you take them

As COVID-19 rapid antigen tests were widely accessible in the United States early this year, several individuals who had delayed life plans earlier in the epidemic decided not to wait any longer. Tanya Lewis, senior health editor at Scientific American, was one of them. She married in August. However, in the weeks before the wedding, cases of the new coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, began to surge again throughout the country.

Her plan seems to have been successful. None of the tests—conducted by placing a nasal swab and reagent drops on a test card or cassette that instantly shows two lines for positive results or one line for negative results—returned a positive result, and no one reported illness in the days that followed.

However, rapid antigen tests accuracy varies. According to a review study published in March, these tests properly detect a SARS-CoV-2 infection in 72% of persons with symptoms and 58% of those without symptoms. Additionally, time is critical. The tests correctly identify 78% of patients during the first week of symptoms but just 51% during the second week, the researchers discovered.  Learn more about rapid antigen test at

If antigen testing had been Lewis’s sole line of defense (apart from putting up and staging a little wedding with all adults vaccinated), this technique risked disrupting her special day due to misread or erroneous test findings. How should individuals approach the use of over-the-counter rapid antigen tests? And if they do, what are they to be cautious of?

As a result, the wedding was conducted outside and confined to fewer than 40 guests, with all adults verifying vaccination status—and Lewis distributed over-the-counter coronavirus rapid antigen tests right before the ceremony, inviting visitors to take them. These reasonably inexpensive tests provide findings in as little as 15 to 30 minutes. “I wanted to provide an additional layer of protection,” she explains.

As testing for COVID-19 has become a routine aspect of daily life, particularly when traveling, it is essential to have the accurate test.

When confronted with the necessity to get a COVID-19 exam, it’s critical to understand that not all rapid antigen tests are made equal, with varying degrees of accuracy and turnaround times. Certain nations will accept just RT-PCR rapid antigen tests — regarded to be the most accurate — while others will accept confirmation of negative testing in any form. All viral rapid antigen tests identify an active illness and are most accurate when “the individual is examined while the viral load is normally at its peak,” the CDC notes.

Numerous states and nations require tourists to undergo testing before to and after their trip, and other locales demand testing to attend events such as sports tournaments or concerts. Additionally, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not compel vaccine-eligible Americans to be tested before to or during domestic travel, the agency does require all overseas visitors to be tested within three days of boarding a flight to the United States.

We’ve broken down each kind of test, as recommended by the CDC, and explained the advantages of each, so travelers are fully informed before their next trip.


Before you undergo rapid antigen tests, familiarize yourself with the distinctions between them.

This is the gold standard for COVID-19 testing, yielding the most precise findings. A RT-PCR test (or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) detects genetic material via the use of Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAAT). NAATs may be conducted using a nasal swab – a long Q-tip — or with saliva.

According to the CDC, “the NAAT technique begins by amplifying – or creating several copies of – the virus’s genetic material present in a person’s test.” “By amplifying or increasing the number of nucleic acids in a specimen, NAATs may identify very minute levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA, making these rapid antigen tests very sensitive for detecting COVID-19.”

The sample is often submitted to a laboratory, and the findings are normally available within a few days, but might vary.

PCR rapid antigen tests are often needed within a few days of overseas travel, including to several Caribbean islands and places as far as the Maldives, as well as to board some cruise lines, such as Viking.

Rapid polymerase chain reaction

This test, which also employs NAAT, is performed “at or near the site of specimen collection,” according to the CDC, delivering faster findings.

Rapid antigen tests

According to the CDC, these are at-home or point-of-care rapid antigen tests that normally produce findings within approximately 15 minutes. They are, however, less sensitive than RT-PCR assays. These rapid antigen tests are often conducted using a nasal swab that is then immediately inserted into an extraction buffer or reagent.

While many nations demand PCR testing upon entry, others, particularly Jamaica and Belize, allow for rapid antigen tests.

Additionally, although the CDC mandates all overseas passengers to have a test within three days after flying to the United States, fast viral testing are permitted.

Rapid tests, such as the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test, may be administered and watched at home, and some airlines provide both at-home and in-person testing alternatives at airports.

Antibody rapid antigen tests are distinguished from viral testing by the fact that they do not identify active infection. Rather than that, according to the CDC, these rapid antigen tests, also known as serology tests, check for antibodies that may have developed in a patient’s blood as a result of a past illness.

When someone catches COVID-19, their body responds by producing antibodies in order to combat the virus. Typically, it takes one to three weeks for the body to produce antibodies after infection.

According to the FDA, the rapid antigen tests are commonly administered through finger stick or blood draw.

Many countries require tourists to provide negative viral testing or evidence of vaccination in order to enter, although others allow passengers to replace this for proof of infection with COVID-19 and recovery. For example, Greece intends to welcome vacationers this summer and will accept confirmation of antibody status as proof of entry. Similarly, Croatia permits visitors to provide evidence of viral recovery in lieu of a COVID-19 test.

Final thoughts

If you’re looking to know about rapid antigens tests, this article will help in veering you in the right direction.