What Is PCR?

Unraveling the importance of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) in modern medicine. Explore its applications with Next Health. Contact us for more details.

What Is PCR?
Next Health Staff
December 6, 2023

Ever since SARS-CoV-2, i.e. COVID-19 began spreading in early 2020, scientists have worked to create and offer accurate tests so that individuals could know whether they had contracted the disease or not. Quickly after COVID-19's discovery, PCR nasal swab testing became the go-to method of testing for most organizations.

Even though many of us have already had a PCR nasal swab test administered, most people don’t know how these tests work or whether they are really worthwhile. It’s important to know what PCR is and how it can detect COVID-19 if you’re on the fence about whether you should get a PCR nasal swab test (which is one of three testing options here at Next Health).

This guide will break down everything you need to know about PCR nasal swab testing, how the test actually works in the laboratory, and how the test can detect COVID-19.

PCR Test Overview

A PCR test is a type of viral detection test. PCR stands for “polymerase chain reaction”, which is the kind of lab technique used to detect certain viral genetic material.

A standard PCR test is normally performed using a nasal swab (also called a nasopharyngeal swab). These swabs are much longer and thinner than typical cotton swabs that you might be used to. The test administrator takes a swab and inserts it into a patient’s nose. The swab is inserted far back in the very rear of the nasal cavity.

In other cases, the swab may be inserted into the back of the throat (these are called oropharyngeal swabs). In either case, the swab’s soft bristles collect various mucous and fluid cells from your tissues. The swabs are then collected and placed into a transportation receptacle. That receptacle is then shipped to a licensed laboratory or clinic that has been approved for COVID-19 PCR testing.

Because most people are not used to foreign objects being inserted into the backs of their noses or throats, PCR tests are often quite uncomfortable. However, all of these side effects are temporary and dissipate within a few moments. PCR tests should never be so uncomfortable to the point of pain, so make sure you speak up if you feel actual pain versus some mild discomfort.

How Does The PCR Test Check For COVID-19?

PCR tests rely on polymerase chain reactions, which can also be called molecular biology photocopying. In a nutshell, this technique involves amplifying or copying small segments of harvested DNA molecules. This amplification method is used because it’s very difficult for geneticists or microbiologists to study small and isolated pieces of target DNA without contextual DNA around them.

PCR is actually used in a variety of laboratory procedures. But it has gained increased recognition due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

To perform PCR and amplify a segment of DNA:

  • First, the sample is heated for DNA denaturation, which separates DNA into pieces of single-strand DNA.

  • Then, test analyzers will administer an enzyme called Taq polymerase. This enzyme synthesizes new strands of DNA by copying the original strands.

  • Over time, the PCR process causes the original DNA sequence to be totally duplicated via sequencing-derived synthesis (i.e. cloning). New molecules contain both one original and one new strand of DNA.

  • More copies are created using the same method. All in all, the copying procedure might be repeated up to 40 times. This is performed using a machine called a thermocycler.

In the COVID-19 test's case, the DNA can be carefully examined for biomarkers or signatures known to be associated with the virus. If a person has been infected with COVID-19, their nasal or throat cells will likely have some genetic material from the virus present.

The PCR nasal swab test is used by most official organizations for its accuracy and efficiency. The nasal swab test is more accurate than most other types of tests currently available to handle the pandemic.

For example, antigen tests are usually less sensitive compared to PCR tests even though they can provide a faster real-time test result. Therefore, many travel organizations require PCR tests instead of rapid antigen tests when determining whether you can enter or leave a country.

How Effective Are PCR Tests?

PCR tests are quite effective at identifying whether someone has contracted COVID-19. While the PCR product method is not foolproof, its efficacy lies in how the test analyzers look for signs of the virus.

Other types of COVID-19 tests check for symptoms or microbiological reactions to the presence of harmful bacteria and viruses. Therefore, certain rapid COVID-19 tests can miss the fact that someone is infected with the virus if the test is administered before the virus has time for replication throughout the body and infect other cells with its DNA.

In contrast, PCR tests are effective since they directly look at genetic markers from tissues that are most likely to collect COVID-19 cells over time.

When administered correctly, PCR tests usually allow administrators to give patients accurate diagnoses of COVID-19 or clean bills of health. Confirmation is typically received within 72 hours following the test’s administration.

Note that even PCR tests are not 100% accurate when looking for COVID-19. There is no truly perfect testing method. Furthermore, you might be exposed to someone with the virus after taking the test, negating its results.

For the best safety measures, plan to get tested for COVID-19 regularly if your work does not already require it. We can all protect each other and limit the virus’s spread if we get tested frequently and isolate when needed.

Are At-Home Or Clinic PCR Tests Better?

Because of the physical discomfort inherent with PCR nasal swab tests, many people have searched for at-home tests. At-home PCR tests involve individuals collecting their own tissue samples and sending them to a designated testing facility.

While the appeal of these tests is easy to see, the truth is that most at-home testing kits don’t provide the same quality as clinic-administered tests. There are a few different reasons for this:

  • For one, people don’t usually administer PCR tests as well as test administrators. It’s difficult to place a nasal swab far enough back into your own nose to collect the adequate tissue sample.

  • For another, many at-home testing kits are not properly sealed or provided with the appropriate test tubes to ensure that samples are not contaminated during the shipping phase.

  • Lastly, some at-home testing kit companies do not provide quality test analysis. Many at-home testing kits are not approved by various health organizations and government teams.

All in all, it’s a much better choice to stick with a clinic-administered PCR test if at all possible. Fortunately, you have a lot of different options. Next Health, for example, offers PCR COVID-19 testing at our approved Los Angeles and New York clinic locations.

Next Health’s PCR Test

As a health optimization center, Next Health offers preventative PCR testing for traveling, social gatherings, and other events that benefit from proactive testing. For the safety of our staff and community, we cannot provide testing to those who believe they have been infected with COVID-19.  

Like many other PCR nasal swab tests, Next Health’s involves placing a cotton swab far to the back of your nasal cavity. However, our advanced clinical experts and wellness team do their best to ensure that everyone who steps into our clinic has a comfortable experience.

To this end, we book appointments that last for between 5 and 10 minutes. You can easily come into your local Next Health clinic and receive your test in a matter of moments. Furthermore, our PCR nasal swab test has been approved by the EUA, so we are fully licensed and registered to provide legitimate COVID-19 tests to the population.

After taking your tissue sample, we ship it to a partner laboratory that quickly performs the analysis and gives us accurate results within a couple of days at most.

We will rapidly inform you about your test results so you can know whether you are healthy enough to travel or if you should isolate yourself until the virus runs its course. We can also provide additional medical recommendations and even medical assistance if you need help.


Ultimately, PCR testing is the most accurate method of detecting COVID-19 that has been created so far.

Since the test it doesn’t take long to administer, you can make a quick appointment and get on with the rest of your day, especially if you visit Next Health for your test.

Once you get PCR tested, you can safely travel with the knowledge that you likely don’t have COVID-19. If you’re interested in receiving PCR COVID-19 testing from Next Health, don’t hesitate to contact us today. Our clinic is set up to maximize social distancing and to ensure that all safety procedures are followed.

We can get you in and out of your appointment in no time. If you’re not alone, we can also accommodate group appointments if you wish to get tested with your partner or family.





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