How the tests work: PCR

PCR Swab Test

  • This test is a swab of the back of the mouth (tonsils and pharynx) and the nose. It is most accurate when done by another person, preferably a healthcare professional so we do recommend coming to our drive-through service at our laboratory in Battersea, London and having one of our skilled swabbers do it for you. This ensures the lowest chance of a false negative result and the fastest turnaround times. However it can be done by yourself if necessary with proper care and attention. It is important to follow the instructions to ensure that there is the best chance of the test finding whether the virus is there or not.
  • Your sample is analysed using the latest PCR technology in conjunction with our partner laboratories. It is a molecular assay based on the detection of the viral nucleic material (RNA) within the covid-19 coronavirus.
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PCR Results

  • You will usually get your results, which will confirm whether or not there has been any virus found on your swab, within 1-3 days of our laboratory receiving your sample. This time table can not be guaranteed in these uncertain times but so far it has been achieved by far the majority of the time.
  • If your result comes back positive (ie confirming that there is covid-19 DNA/RNA on your swab) then you can be very sure that you have coronavirus in your nose or throat. The implications of this, whether you feel ill or not, is that you can spread the virus and you should check the latest NHS advice here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/. This is particularly the case if you feel unwell or short of breath at all in which case you should go straight to https://111.nhs.uk/service/COVID-19/ where you will find what to do next.
  • If you get a negative result (ie confirming that no covid-19 DNA/RNA was found on your swab) then it is cautiously good news but does not completely guarantee that you have not been exposed to covid-19. All it definitively confirms is that there was no covid-19 on the swab. This means that there is a chance that you have swabbed yourself in a window when there were no viruses there or you did not swab effectively enough – so if you do begin to feel any of the symptoms of covid-19 coronavirus please seek help. The guidance on what to do is changing fast as more is being learnt about the virus all the time so please always refer to the latest NHS advice.
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