April 28, 2020

How does Antibody Testing Work for Covid-19

Millions of people worldwide have been diagnosed with SARS-VoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Thousands or perhaps even millions of others have potentially contracted the virus but never exhibited any symptoms. These individuals may have developed immunity and are no longer in danger of contracting the virus.

Antibody testing can tell us a great deal about just how widespread this virus is. It can also help us identify who may no longer be at risk of contracting it. How do rapid tests work and what are their benefits? Here’s more information.

How Antibodies Develop

Your body is programmed to develop immunity whenever it is exposed to an antigen. Antigens are toxic or foreign substances, such as a virus, that might result in illness. Antigen testing can determine the presence of antigens but cannot tell you whether you have developed an immunity. For that, you will need to undergo an antibody test.

The FDA has approved serum or blood tests to identify the presence of coronavirus antibodies. A positive result means that you have previously been exposed to SARS-CoV2 in the past and developed a sufficient immune response to overcome it. A negative result does not necessarily rule out the fact that you were exposed to COVID-19. Rather, it means you have not yet develop sufficient antibodies to fight off a future infection.

Scientists believe that a healthy individual can begin making antibodies anywhere from 11 days to 4 weeks following exposure. In addition, an antibody test should not be used to detect the live virus. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should consider require antigen testing instead.

How is Testing Performed?

Testing for SARS-Cov2 antibodies is performed by taking a small amount of blood through a finger stick. Next, your blood will be tested for IgM and IgG antibodies. IgM antibodies tend to show up early during an infection. IgG antibodies, on the other hand, will likely show up if you have already recovered from the virus. As such, an antibody test might also give doctors an idea as to when you were infected.

The test itself takes only a few seconds to perform. You can then receive your results in as little as 15 minutes. Even so, backlogs at the laboratory may delay results. Accordingly, you should exercise patience when having one of these tests performed.

Antigen vs. Antibody Testing

Antibody tests should not be confused with a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) or nasal swab test, which is used to detect COVID-19. That test will tell doctors if you have a current infection but will not show whether you have developed antibodies. In addition, it can only provide a positive result if you have an active infection.

If you have previously tested positive for COVID-19, you may want to have an antibody test performed once you have recovered. This will give you a good idea as to your risk of future infection. However, if you suspect you have contracted the virus but were never tested, you could also benefit from being checked for antibodies.

Testing Limitations

Doctors are not yet sure what positive antibody results mean. With some viruses, you can develop immunity for only a short time, such as six to twelve months. After that time, any antibodies your body has created become weakened, thereby leaving you vulnerable to infection again. This is why people who have had the flu and recovered are able to contract it year after year.

At this time, no one knows how long SARS-CoV2 antibodies might last. More testing can definitely help researchers learn how antibodies develop.


By determining who has developed antibodies, scientists can determine how widespread the virus is. This information can also help identify who is most at risk of contracting SARS-CoV2.

Receiving a positive antibody test is a comforting thing for many people. For some, it can allow them to better care for others without fear. A negative antibody test in conjunction with a negative antigen test will rule out the possibility of COVID-19. Consequently, it can help guide doctors in recommending a course of treatment.


When used in conjunction with antigen testing, rapid tests can help scientists learn more about COVID-19. Antibody testing can also help eliminate much uncertainty as to whether someone might contract the virus. Speak with your physician to learn if you would be a good candidate for serum testing.

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