The world is ridden with the Coronavirus Pandemic and even though travel restrictions are not as strict as they were during the initial stages of the pandemic, RT-PCR testing is still crucial for anyone planning to travel at this time.   Real-Time RT PCR is a highly sensitive method of testing for different viruses, including the Covid-19 virus. The interesting bit about this test is that it can give you the results within an hour of being performed. Naturally, in times of peak Covid crisis, we need quick and efficient testing to be able to take subsequent actions as quickly as possible as well.  

What is Real-Time RT-PCR?

RT-PCR stands for Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction. The reaction uses RNA as testing material. RNA (ribonucleic acid) is a single-stranded nucleic acid and it is usually found in viruses as viral RNA[1]. RNA is nucleic material similar to DNA but with only one strand instead of two like DNA does.   The test used fluorescent dyes as markers to identify genetic materials[2] that are specific to the virus being tested for. In a real-time process, the scientists can identify this material while the process is ongoing instead of waiting for it to end. And this is how the results of the test can be delivered so quickly.   Conventional RT-PCR can identify the virus once the process has ended which, for covid 19, might be just too much time considering the risks involved.   Many places offer Real-Time RT-PCR services however most places can take 3 hours or so to determine the results. Very few places can offer this service with results within a single hour and one of these places includes Urgent Medical Care and MRI in New Jersey. They perform rapid testing in New Jersey, eliminating the otherwise long waiting period.  

How is it Different from PCR?

Before we determine the differences in both types of testing, we need to understand what reverse transcription is. Reverse transcription is a process used to make complementary DNA (cDNA) from a strand of RNA[3].   When performing PCR, DNA is needed as genetic material to determine the pathogen that is involved in the process. However, the covid-19 virus does not have DNA, therefore it needs to be transcripted from the RNA present in the virus to have PCR be performed on it. PCR is a   highly used diagnostic test, used for viruses such as Ebola. Both PCR and RT-PCR can be performed in real-time as well[4].  

Advantages of real-time RT-PCR

There is a myriad of advantages to using real-time RT-PCR for the diagnosis of Covid-19[5]. First of all, it can be used to identify the amplified cDNA from the virus while the PCR is in process. This naturally makes it a highly efficient test, providing rapid results which can greatly benefit the patient.   Other than that, RT-PCR is a highly sensitive test as well and its positive findings are highly specific to the covid-19 virus too. Conventional RT-PCR is lower in specificity compared to Realt-Time PCR as well.   Since conventional RT-PCR is not monitored while in process, there are quite a few procedures performed after the process is over to identify the genetic markers which determine the virus. These processes may include gel electrophoresis, probe hybridization, and even the ELISA test. Real-Time RT-PCR is much quicker since the observations made during the process eliminate the need for endpoint analysis.   Real-Time RT-PCR is also highly reliable because the entire process is performed in a single vessel, unlike conventional RT-PCR which requires the products to be transferred and tested in different variations which can risk the products being contaminated. The contamination of these products may ultimately hamper the test results as well.  

Why is it Important for Travelling?

Real-Time RT-PCR is the ideal test for travelling outside the USA. You can get tested the same day or 1 hour at UMCMRI before you board the plane and, provided that you do not enter crowded areas in this period, you are in the clear for your travel plans. Similarly, in case you test positive, you can plan your isolation and treatment accordingly as well and be able to shift your travel plans to a later date as necessary. The test is necessary to prevent spreading the virus to other people on the plane. Real-Time RT-PCR is also a more reliable method of testing than traditional RT-PCR, which makes it better for traveling as well.  


Real-Time RT-PCR is a highly reliable and efficient method of testing. Places such as Urgent Medical Care and MRI have made it even more efficient and therefore rapid testing in New Jersey and other areas with quick Real-Time RT-PCR is being used to control the pandemic situation in the country.  


  1. Rio Reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction. Cold Spring Harbor Protocols. 2014 Nov 1;2014(11):pdb-rot080887.
  2. Bustin SA, Benes V, Nolan T, Pfaffl Quantitative real-time RT-PCR–a perspective. Journal of molecular endocrinology. 2005 Jun 1;34(3):597-601.
  3. Gilboa E, Mitra SW, Goff S, Baltimore D. A detailed model of reverse transcription and tests of crucial Cell. 1979 Sep 1;18(1):93-100.
  4. Jawerth N. How is the COVID-19 virus detected using real time RT-PCR. International Atomic Energy Vienna International Centre, PO Box. 2020 Jun;100.
  5. Huggett J, Dheda K, Bustin S, Zumla A. Real-time RT-PCR normalisation; strategies and Genes & Immunity. 2005 Jun;6(4):279-84.