If you want to know if you have COVID-19 right now, the antibody test is not the right choice.
You’re pretty sure you’ve never had COVID-19. After all, you’ve “felt fine” since the beginning of the pandemic. However, you know that people can have COVID-19 without having any symptoms. So how do you know if you’ve had it? One option is to get the antibody test for COVID-19.
How the Antibody Test Works
The antibody test is very different than the PCR test and the antigen test. These two tests tell you whether or not you have COVID-19 at that moment. On the other hand, the antibody test tells you if you had COVID-19 in the past.
An antibody test is a blood test, and it works by looking for antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that your immune system makes to fight off infections. These antibodies linger in the body, which often help to protect you from getting that infection again in the future. Think of antibodies like souvenirs for your immune system. (Learn more about what antibodies are here.)
This test is given via a blood test (not a nasal swab). Results typically take about one to three days to receive.
What the Results Mean
A positive antibody test means you may have COVID-19 antibodies in your blood. This means there’s a good chance you had COVID-19 in the past, or you were at least exposed to it.
A negative test result means you don’t have COVID-19 antibodies in your blood. This would mean that you probably have not had COVID-19 in the past.
That said, it’s important to know that antibody tests vary in their accuracy. False negatives and false positives are common. That’s why it is best to repeat the test to confirm your results, and to continue following public health guidelines regardless of your results.
Tamara Moise, MD, is an emergency medicine physician at Big Apple Medical Urgent Care.
- Test for Current Infection (Viral Test). Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control, 2021. (Accessed March 17, 2021)
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 Testing Basics. Silver Spring, MD: Food & Drug Administration, 2020. (Accessed March 17, 2021)
- Serology Testing for COVID-19 at CDC. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control, 2020. (Accessed March 17, 2021)