PCR tests or Lateral Flow tests: Which to take?

PCR tests and Lateral Flow tests are the two most widely recommended COVID-19 detection methods, but each has distinct purposes.

Like the common cold, COVID-19 seems like it is here to stay. Cases are rising and falling every day without any evident possibility of Covid retreating for good. While the world did come to a standstill for a moment there, things are slowly returning to normal, of sorts. Life must go on. Thus, adapting to a ‘new normal’ is more important now than ever.

Part of post-covid life involves testing for infections, and lots of it. The most obvious reason to get tested is when one begins to exhibit symptoms of having the virus. Other reasons are more precautionary, like when one is about to embark on foreign travel.

If you test positive, regardless of where in the world you are or your vaccination status, you will be legally required to self-isolate. There is no alternative in this matter.

The two main testing methods available to us are PCR tests and Lateral Flow tests. While the former is considered the ‘gold standard’, the latter is faster and cheaper. So, which one should you use?

It comes down to whether you have symptoms or not. Yes, it really is that simple.

The most common COVID-19 symptoms:

  • Continuous cough
  • High temperature
  • Loss of taste or smell

Sample Collection for a PCR Test

When is it appropriate to take PCR tests?

Polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests are considered by experts to be the best method for COVID-19 detection that is currently available.

As soon as you start displaying symptoms or come into close contact with an infected person, you must take a PCR test.

While the UK government provides free PCR tests for the purposes of confirmation on exhibiting symptoms or when someone in your household is infected, the government tests absolutely cannot be used for foreign travel.

Countries around the world have set up COVID-19 restrictions at their borders. Most of them only accept negative PCR tests from foreign visitors before granting them entry.

Check which countries require PCR tests from travellers and holidaymakers.

PCR tests for travel can only be acquired from government-approved private distributors. With VIVO Clinic’s Travel PCR tests, you will receive the essential fit-to-fly certificates and have options for either in-clinic tests or at-home ones.

When should one use Lateral Flow tests?

Lateral Flow tests (also known as Rapid Antigen tests) can check whether you are infected or not when you do not have any symptoms. In fact, Lateral Flow tests can only be used for COVID-19 detection when you are asymptomatic.

Unlike PCR tests, where samples need to be sent to the laboratory, Lateral Flow tests can be done at home with results ready within minutes.

The NHS recommends taking Lateral Flow tests at least twice a week. One in three people who are infected with COVID-19 do not display symptoms, but they can still spread the virus to others as easily. Taking regular Lateral Flow tests at home can massively help in curtailing the spread.

Read about how to get yourself the NHS Lateral Flow tests.

Many countries permit the use of Lateral Flow tests by foreign travellers when seeking entry. Like PCR tests, however, you must only use tests distributed by private firms for foreign travel purposes. VIVO Clinic also offers Rapid Antigen tests for travel.



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