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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection can be diagnosed using a test called polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Samples are taken from places likely to have the virus that causes COVID-19, like the back of the nose or mouth or deep inside the lungs. After a sample is collected, RNA, which is part of the virus particle, is extracted and converted to complementary DNA for testing. The PCR test involves binding sequences on the DNA that only are found in the virus and repeatedly copying everything in between. This process is repeated many times, with doubling of the target region with each cycle. A fluorescent signal is created when amplification occurs, and once the signal reaches a threshold, the test result is considered positive. If no viral sequence is present, amplification will not occur, resulting in a negative result.
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Published Online: April 1, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.5388
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
Source: Wang W, Xu Y, Gao R, et al. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in different types of clinical specimens. JAMA. Published online March 11, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3786
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