A Nucleic Acid Amplification Test, or NAAT, is a type of viral diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. NAATs detect genetic material (nucleic acids). NAATs for SARS-CoV-2 specifically identify the RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequences that comprise the genetic material of the virus. A PCR test is a type of NAAT test.
Antibody tests detect viral proteins, and function best when more of the virus is present in the sample, so they may fail to detect the presence of the virus in mild or asymptomatic cases. NAAT tests accurately detect even a small amount of the virus in the body, decreasing the chance of a false negative, and the associated risk of spreading the virus.