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Sample for analysis at the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the "Epi Lab". The lab is a Department of Defense reference laboratory offering clinical diagnostic, public health, and force health screening and testing. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Sample for analysis at the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the "Epi Lab". The lab is a Department of Defense reference laboratory offering clinical diagnostic, public health, and force health screening and testing. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

What is an Antibody Test for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) 

May 6, 2020

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Antibody blood tests, also called antibody tests, check your blood by looking for antibodies, which show if you had a previous infection with the virus. Depending on when someone was infected and the timing of the test, the test may not find antibodies in someone with a current COVID-19 infection. Antibodies are proteins that help fight off infections. Antibody tests should not be used to diagnose someone as being currently sick with COVID-19. To see if you have a current infection, you need a viral test, which checks respiratory samples, such as a swab from inside your nose.

Antibody tests are available through healthcare providers and laboratories.

 

How to get an antibody testRoutine Screening for Antibodies to Human Immunodeficiency Virus. DOD photo public domain

Check with your healthcare provider to see if they offer antibody tests.

  • If you test positive:
    • A positive test result shows you have antibodies that likely resulted from an infection with SARS-CoV-2, or possibly a related coronavirus.
    • It’s unclear if those antibodies can provide protection (immunity) against getting infected again. This means that we do not know at this time if antibodies make you immune to the virus.
    • If you have no symptoms, you likely do not have an active infection and no additional follow-up is needed.
    • If you have symptoms and meet other guidelines for testing, you would need another type of test called a nucleic acid test, or viral test. This test uses respiratory samples, such as a swab from inside your nose, to confirm COVID-19. An antibody test cannot tell if you are currently sick with COVID-19.
    • It’s possible you might test positive for antibodies and you might not have or have ever had symptoms of COVID-19. This is known as having an asymptomatic infection, or an infection without symptoms.
  • If you test negative:
    • If you test negative for COVID-19 antibodies, you probably did not have a previous infection that has gotten better. However, you could have a current infection. It’s possible you could still get sick if you have been exposed to the virus recently, since antibodies don’t show up for 1 to 3 weeks after infection. This means you could still spread the virus.
    • Some people may take even longer to develop antibodies, and some people may not develop antibodies.
    • If you have  symptoms and meet other  guidelines for testing,  you would need another type of test called a nucleic acid test, or  viral test.  This test uses respiratory samples, such as a swab from inside your nose, to confirm COVID-19. An antibody test cannot tel l if you are currently sick with COVID-19.
  • These test results alone do not confirm if you are able to spread the virus that causes COVID-19.   Know how to protect yourself and others.

For healthcare professionals

For information on evaluating and testing, see   recommendations for reporting, testing, and specimen collection

CDC’s work in antibody testing

Scientist testing with coronavirus through test tubes. Original image sourced from US Government department: Public Health Image Library, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-public domain CC0

CDC is evaluating commercial tests

CDC is evaluating the performance of commercially manufactured antibody tests in collaboration with other government agencies. FDA has authorized emergency use of several antibody tests.

For more information:

CDC is conducting   serologic surveillance

CDC is looking at  data from antibody tests  to estimate the total number of people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the United States. CDC is also using antibody testing to learn more about how the body’s immune system responds to the virus and to explore how the virus spreads among people exposed to it. The information CDC is looking at comes from many groups, including blood donors and household contacts of people who had symptoms and were diagnosed with COVID-19.

CDC is supporting   state, local, tribal and territorial laboratory capacity.


last reviewed: May 5, 2020

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