Antigen Rapid Swab Test and RT-PCR Molecular Swab Test for COVID 19. Differences and how to get them in Rome.

COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is all anyone can talk about these days. We’re seeing a lot of confusing information – getting lost out there about testing in Italy and in Rome. Here now is some clear and concise information that we hope helps you stay informed and make the best decision for your health.

What’s is an Antigen Rapid swab test?

Antigen tests are rapid tests ready in 15-30 minutes. These tests detect the presence of a specific COVID-19 viral antigen, which, if found, indicates current viral infection. Rapid Antigen tests are relatively inexpensive and can be used as a diagnostic care tool. Rapid Antigen tests perform best in cases with high viral load, in pre-symptomatic and early symptomatic cases up to five days from symptom onset.

What is a RT-PCR COVID 19 swab test?

While you may have heard about a variety of nasopharyngeal swab tests, the RT-PCR COVID-19 test remains the gold standard. In fact the RT-PCR test is used to re-confirm a positive Antigen Rapid test result. The RT-PCR test detect the presence of COVID-19 genetic material in nose and throat. Furthermore, RT-PCR tests are required to end the isolation of persons who have tested COVID-19 positive. A doctor’s prescription is always required to get a RT-PCR test and is generally prescribed following a positive Antigen Rapid test as per confirmation test . For information on RT-PCR tests for travel purposes, go to the end of this article for details.

What is the difference between an Antigen Rapid and RT-PCR COVID-19 swab test?

Rapid Antigen tests for COVID-19 are generally less sensitive (which can mean less accurate) than RT-PCR Molecular test. The first antigen tests to have received FDA approval demonstrated a sensitivity ranging from 84.0%-97.6%. In persons who have the virus, antigen levels collected from rapid tests done 5-7 days after the onset of symptoms may drop below the limit of detection. This may result in a negative rapid test result, while a more sensitive test, such as RT-PCR, would most likely return an accurate positive result.

Check-out the CDC coronavirus page for more information.

What do I do if I’ve had close-contact with a COVID-19 positive person?

When a person has had close contact exposure to someone with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, both quarantine and testing can be applied. The most recent Italian Ministry of Health decree of 12/10/2020 articulates two timelines for quarantine and testing for those who have had close-contact exposure to a COVID-19 positive person:

  • Quarantine for 14 days. If the patient has no symptoms and no fever, during this 14-day period, the patient is released back into the community on the 15th The conclusion of this 14-day quarantine period must be authorized by a medical professional following a personal evaluation of the patient’s circumstances;


  • Quarantine for 10 days. On the 10th day, the patient can undergo a Rapid Antigen test or RT-PCR Molecular Test. If the test is negative and the patient has no symptoms and no fever, the quarantine is concluded and the patient is released back into the community.

How does isolation end after a confirmed positive COVID-19 case?

Let’s give a clear example: patient X, who is suffering from flu-like symptoms, undergoes a COVID-19 Antigen Rapid test, prescribed by his doctor, which results in a positive diagnosis. Following this Antigen Rapid test, a RT-PCR test is necessary to confirm the rapid test results, if the antigen test is qualitative.

However, rapid tests (quantitative) are rated on a Cut Off Index (COI) scale. In Lazio, if a patient has a rapid test with a numeric value result higher than 10 COI, then they are diagnosed as COVID-19 positive without need RT PCR confirmation test. A negative RT-PCR test result is necessary to end the isolation. For those persons who continue to test positive, a doctor will advise on isolation limits for prolonged positive testing.

Where I can get a Rapid Antigen test in Rome?

The Lazio region has authorized many private clinics to conduct Rapid Antigen testing at the cost of 22 euro. The full list can be seen here.

Before making any decision to undergo testing, please consult with a doctor. An informed and thorough proper medical assessment is essential to access accurate care. MedInAction has medical professionals ready and waiting to assist you. Following a consultation, MedInAction doctors can provide you a prescription for the Rapid Antigen test. Remember, a Rapid Antigen test can give false-negative results, sometimes (most unlikely) even false-positive results! That’s why it’s so important to consult with your doctor during the testing process. MedInAction doctors can interpret your results and recommend appropriate follow-up treatment, such as a RT-PCR test, based on current Italian health guidelines.

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Where can I get a RT-PCR COVID 19 for travel?

Many of you may need a negative RT-PCR test result to travel internationally, depending on your airline, flight itinerary, and destination. The requirement usually that the test be conducted between 48-96 hours prior to departure. A doctor’s prescription is still necessary for the RT-PCR travel test. MedInAction can write a prescription for you at a cost of just €35. We can also assist you with booking an appointment. The Lazio region is increasing availability for RT-PCR tests for travel purposes and test results are usually ready in 24-36 hours.

Here is a list of all private local clinics now offering RT-PCR travel testing at the cost of 60 euro.

Alternatively, MedInAction can arrange for a nurse to go to you and conduct the nasopharyngeal swab in the comfort of your own home. MedInAction will take the tests to be processed to an authorized private clinic in Rome and you will received your results as soon as they are ready by email within 24hours.

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