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How Do COVID-19 RT-PCR Tests Work?

rt pcr test

Ever since COVID-19 started to spread during the first quarter of 2020, people have been bombarded with medical terms and acronyms such as RT PCR test. You can always hear the words CDC, ARI, Asymptomatic, Delta Variant, flattening the curve, and a lot more medical terms on television, radio, and other broadcast media platforms. However, there are still many people who do not understand what these terms and acronyms mean.

What is the RT PCR Test?
One of the acronyms being mentioned often is the RT PCR test. PCR test is short for a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. RT PCR is a test that detects if a person has levels of COVID-19 mRNAs or genetic materials inside them. RT PCR is considered the gold standard in detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 disease.


How Does RT PCR Test Work?

To understand how RT PCR tests work, it is first important to understand what it aims to detect.
Viruses have been around since life on earth started. Viruses are microscopic organic molecules that contain proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and carbohydrates. Viruses are not considered living things since they remain inactive in the outside environment. However, when viruses enter a living organism, they attach themselves and replicate using the cells of their hosts. The activity of the viruses inside a host will cause diseases, of which some are deadly.

To prevent the virus from spreading, it is best to spot them immediately. However, since viruses are microscopic, they are difficult to detect. Fortunately, RT PCR test was developed during the 1980s to detect viral DNA in host organisms.

PCR detects a small fragment of a virus then creates multiple copies of that fragment to make detection easier. PCR will then use fluorescent dyes to mark the replicated fragments. The fluorescent dye will enable laboratory and medical technicians to determine how much viral material is present in the sample.

Here is how RT PCR works.

· A sample from a person is taken. For the COVID-19 PCR test, the saliva or mucous is taken as a sample. DNA materials from the saliva or mucous are then extracted. The resulting mix will contain the person’s genetic materials and the genetic materials of viruses and other pathogens that are present in the person.

· For COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is an RNA-based virus. Testing technicians must first convert the genetic material obtained from the sample to DNA to be replicated using the reverse transcription (RT) process. Chemical reagents, including fluorescent dyes, are added to the mix to build copies of the genetic material. The fluorescent dyes will serve as probes that will mark any SARS-CoV-2 genetic material found.

· The sample is then placed in a PCR thermocycler machine to stimulate the replication of the viral DNA using different thermal cycles. After an hour, the viral DNA will have replicated into millions of copies which can be detected by the fluorescence produced. The higher the intensity of the fluorescence produces in each cycle will indicate more viral material inside.

RT PCR Test is the fastest and most reliable method for detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is, therefore, best to undergo a PCR test if you suspect that you or your household has COVID-19.