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Infectious agent detection by nucleic acid (DNA or RNA); severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (Coronavirus disease [COVID-19]), amplified probe technique

CPT4 code

Name of the Procedure:

Infectious Agent Detection by Nucleic Acid (DNA or RNA); Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (Coronavirus Disease [COVID-19]), Amplified Probe Technique\ Common Names: COVID-19 PCR Test, SARS-CoV-2 PCR Test


The COVID-19 PCR test is a diagnostic procedure used to detect the presence of the genetic material (RNA) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. This test uses a technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify the virus's RNA, making it easier to detect even in very small amounts.


This test is used to diagnose active COVID-19 infections. Detecting the virus early helps in managing and treating patients, as well as preventing further spread of the virus. The goal is to confirm whether someone is currently infected with SARS-CoV-2.


  • Symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, and loss of taste or smell
  • Known exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case
  • Preoperative screening or travel requirements
  • Screening in high-risk settings such as healthcare facilities, nursing homes, and schools


  • No specific preparation is usually required; however, specific instructions may be given based on the testing site.
  • Patients are generally advised to avoid certain foods or drinks for a certain period before the test.
  • Ensure the patient provides accurate information about their symptoms and exposure history.

Procedure Description

  1. Sample Collection: A healthcare professional collects a sample using a sterile swab from the nasopharynx or oropharynx (nose or throat).
  2. Sample Transportation: The collected sample is properly labeled and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
  3. RNA Extraction: In the lab, RNA is extracted from the sample.
  4. PCR Amplification: The extracted RNA is then subjected to PCR. This process amplifies the virus's genetic material if it is present.
  5. Detection: The amplified RNA is detected using specific probes. A positive result indicates the presence of the virus.

Tools and Equipment:

  • Sterile swabs
  • Collection vials/transport medium
  • PCR machines and reagents


The sample collection process takes about 10-15 minutes. Laboratory processing and result reporting can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the lab's capacity.


The initial sample collection is typically performed in outpatient clinics, drive-through testing sites, hospitals, or designated testing centers. The analysis is done in a specialized laboratory.


  • Healthcare professionals such as nurses or medical technicians collect the samples.
  • Clinical laboratory technologists perform the PCR analysis.

Risks and Complications

  • Minimal risk of discomfort or minor bleeding from the swab collection
  • Rare risk of inaccurate results due to improper sample collection, handling, or lab errors


  • Accurate detection of active COVID-19 infection
  • Early diagnosis to manage, treat, and prevent the spread
  • Informing public health decisions and interventions


  • No recovery time is needed after the sample collection.
  • Follow any specific instructions provided by the healthcare provider, such as self-isolation if awaiting results after exposure.


  • Rapid Antigen Tests: Faster results but generally less sensitive.
  • Antibody Tests: Used to detect past infection rather than current infection and are not suitable for diagnosing active COVID-19.

Patient Experience

During the sample collection, the patient may feel slight discomfort, a gagging sensation, or coughing due to the swab. These sensations are temporary, and the procedure is brief. Post-sample collection, the patient can resume normal activities and should follow any specific guidelines provided for awaiting results.

Medical Policies and Guidelines for Infectious agent detection by nucleic acid (DNA or RNA); severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (Coronavirus disease [COVID-19]), amplified probe technique

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