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Article: What Is a Nucleic Acid Amplification Covid Test?

What Is a Nucleic Acid Amplification Covid Test?

What Is a Nucleic Acid Amplification Covid Test?

The NAAT covid-19 test is a viral diagnostic test that identifies the genetic material for the SARS-Cov-2 virus in an infected patient’s sample. The test uses the Nucleic Acid Amplification method to detect nucleic acids of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Unlike antibody tests that detect past infections, diagnostic tests such as the NAAT test are used to detect if a person is currently infected with the Covid-19 virus. Since NAAT is a diagnostic test just like the PCR test, you may wonder, is a PCR test a NAAT test? Well, the simple answer is that Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is one of the testing techniques that may be used to conduct NAAT tests. However, to give you a better NAAT vs PCR test comparison, here’s a detailed look at the NAAT Covid-19 test.

What Is a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test?

The Nucleic Acid Amplification test, abbreviated as NAAT, is a Covid-19 diagnostic test that uses the Nucleic Acid Amplification technique to diagnose if someone is infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 symptoms.

The test identifies the genetic material or the ribonucleic acid (RNA) present in the patient’s sample. Through the amplification process, copies of the virus’s genetic material are made, making it easier to determine if the clinical specimen contains the Covid-19 virus. The NAAT test's ability to amplify or make numerous copies of the virus’s genetic material enables it to detect the SARS-Cov-2 virus in a specimen, even when it’s in very small quantities. This makes it a highly sensitive and reliable test for detecting SARS-CoV-2 infection.

One of the most commonly used techniques for NAAT testing is the Polymerase Chain Reaction method, abbreviated as PCR. This technique is highly sensitive and specific, enabling it to detect even small amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a sample. This characteristic is what makes the PCR test the golden standard for Covid-19 testing. Due to the sensitivity of the PCR technique, it’s also used to confirm the results of the FlowFlex rapid antigen test, among other less sensitive lateral flow tests.

Other notable Covid-19 testing NAAT techniques used to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 include:

  • Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR)
  • Transcription Mediated Amplification (TMA)
  • Helicase-Dependent Amplification (HAD)
  • Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP)
  • Strand Displacement Amplification (SDA)

How Is a NAAT Test Conducted?

The NAAT Covid-19 test takes place in four easy steps as explained below:

Step 1: Sample collection - Sample collection involves the collection of specimens using nasal swabs.  According to CDC, upper respiratory swabs such as nasopharyngeal, anterior, or nasal mid-turbinate samples are more reliable for NAAT tests. In some instances, saliva may be an acceptable specimen, but the quality of a saliva sample can be highly variable, which can affect the results of the test. The respiratory material collected from your nose or throat is then sealed and sent to the lab.

Step 2: Extraction - Once the lab receives your sample, the genetic material or viral RNA in your sample is extracted from other substances using chemicals and enzymes.

Step 3: Amplification - If the patient’s sample has the Covid-19 virus, the extraction process will reveal some amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus RNA. Using the polymerase chain reaction technique, the extracted RNA is converted to DNA. This is necessary as the single-stranded RNA cannot be amplified unless it’s changed into a double-stranded DNA. The amplification process involves making numerous copies of the virus’s RNA.

Step 4: Determination of the results - In the last step, the results are then examined and concluded to be either positive or negative.

Although the results of this test are highly accurate, one of the drawbacks is that this test is less convenient when it comes to results determination. Unlike rapid tests that give you results in minutes, you’ll have to wait for the results of a NAAT test for 24 hours or longer.


In closing, the NAAT test is one of the tests used to detect if someone is currently infected with the Covid-19 infection in the UK. This test is highly sensitive and reliable for diagnosing Covid-19. However, the results of this test aren’t instant, as they take a few days to be determined. Notably, if you want a test that can give you rapid Covid-19 results, you can order a lateral flow test in England today.

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