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A COVID antibody test shows whether or not you have COVID antibodies in your blood. It is sometimes called a serological test. In most cases, if the test shows the presence of antibodies, you will likely be immune to a COVID-19 infection, nor will you be at risk of spreading the virus to others. Currently, there are no FDA-evaluated at-home COVID antibody tests, but tests are available from a variety of sources.
What is the Difference between a COVID Antibody Test and a Regular COVID Test?
The main difference is a COVID test tells you if you have COVID and the antibody test tells you if you have the antibodies in your system. This means you were previously infected. It doesn’t mean you had any symptoms and it doesn’t guarantee you are immune from getting it again. Having antibodies offers protection, though, and your body will be better at warding off a future infection if you are exposed.
Everybody is different. Some people develop antibodies within a few days of exposure to the virus, while others take weeks. Some never develop antibodies. It is also unknown how long the antibodies remain in your blood. At the moment, most medical experts believe antibodies are present for at least three months after infection.
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Can an Antibody Test Diagnose Whether I Have COVID?
No. The antibody test determines if your body has developed antibodies, but it won’t tell you if you are currently infected.
The only way to know if you are currently positive for COVID, and therefore at risk of spreading the virus, is to have a COVID test. And even a single test might not guarantee you are in the clear. It can take up to seven days for the COVID test to show accurate results, which is why quarantine and re-testing are sometimes needed.
I Tested Positive for COVID Antibodies. Am I Immune from Getting the Virus Again?
Medical experts speculate that people who have COVID antibodies are likely to be temporarily immune. However, there is no guarantee, so you should still practice social distancing and wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
You should consider antibody testing once you have fully recovered from COVID-19 or if you believe exposure occurred and you’re several weeks past the quarantine period.
What Should I Expect If I Have a COVID Antibody Test?
Unlike regular COVID-19 testing, the antibody test requires a blood draw. It can be as non-invasive as a finger prick but might require a blood draw from a vein. That sample is tested to determine if antibodies are present in your blood. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body’s immune system and they fight the virus and help clear it from the body.
A positive test shows that antibodies are present in your blood and that you were previously infected with COVID, whether you had symptoms or not. It likely means you have some immunity to the virus, but researchers are not sure for exactly how long the immunity lasts.
Why Have a COVID Antibody Test?
There are many reasons why you might want to have a COVID-19 antibody test.
The most common reason people undergo antibody testing is to verify they had the virus.
An antibody test also gives you some indication of how at-risk you are if you are exposed again.
Another benefit of antibody testing is that if you test positive, you could be eligible to donate plasma. Researchers are using plasma from previously infected people to treat those who develop severe cases of COVID. Plasma with antibodies is introduced into the severely ill person’s system, giving their bodies a better chance of beating the virus.
Should I Have an Antibody Test If I Get the Vaccine?
It’s not necessary. The only thing you would be doing if you have an antibody test after getting the vaccine is you’d confirm that the vaccine was effective in your body. You would test positive for antibodies, which means you’d have at least as much protection as someone who had the virus previously. There is debate in the medical community over which is more protective: natural infection of COVID-19 or a vaccine for that virus.
Keep in mind, COVID is a very new virus and researchers continue to learn more as the days and weeks pass. Information might change, so it’s important to check with your doctor before making any decisions that could pose a risk to your health or the health of others.
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Health, Center for Devices and Radiological. “Antibody (Serology) Testing for COVID-19: Information for Patients and Consumers.” FDA, 29 July 2020, www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-covid-19-and-medical-devices/antibody-serology-testing-covid-19-information-patients-and-consumers.
“Here’s What You Need to Know about COVID-19 Testing.” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/expert-answers/covid-antibody-tests/faq-20484429.
“What’s the Difference between a COVID-19 Test and an Antibody Test?” 11Alive.com, www.11alive.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/difference-between-a-covid-19-test-and-an-antibody-test/85-0a56e685-3593-4380-86f1-2de97e5243da. Accessed 16 Dec. 2020.
"Lasting immunity found after recovery from COVID-19." www.nih.gov, https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/lasting-immunity-found-after-recovery-covid-19. Accessed 8 July 2021.