Should You Get a COVID-19 Antibody Test?
Within the last week, testing centers such as LabCorp and Quest have started offering an antibody test for COVID-19. Many PSA clients have reached out with questions about this new test versus the official COVID-19 test, and who should receive which test. As a result, I wanted to address these two separate tests, and give more detail about the differences and uses for each.
How does the Official COVID-19 test work?
The official test for COVID-19 uses a nasopharyngeal swab to look for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Who should get an official COVID-19 test?
If you have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and/or you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, you should contact your doctor or medical provider to see if you should be tested for COVID-19. You will need a referral from a doctor in order to receive the test. Insurance will cover this test; however, care must be coordinated through a medical professional to ensure the correct billing.
How does the new Coronavirus antibody test work?
This particular test uses blood from a finger prick, which is then sent to a lab for antibody detection.
What are antibodies and why do they matter with the Coronavirus?
When the body is exposed to a pathogen, like the Coronavirus, the immune system creates antibodies against that pathogen. Those antibodies stay in the blood. The next time the body is exposed to that pathogen, the antibodies attack it before it can make you sick. It is as if the body sends out an alert to the immune system to be on the lookout for that pathogen. If they arrive, the immune system activates antibodies to deal with it.
Antibody testing for COVID-19 is really important. Certain antibodies, called IgM, are produced early in the illness, often within one to two weeks after getting infected, then fade after a couple of weeks. IgG antibodies are produced later, at around six weeks, and last for a long time, sometimes for years.
Some antibody tests look for the presence of IgG, while others look for both IgM and IgG. An antibody test for COVID-19 that recently obtained approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looks for both.
How does an antibody test compare to the official COVID-19 test?
The official test for COVID-19 tests for the virus itself to see if it’s in your nose at the present time.
Antibody testing detects the body’s immune response to the infection caused by the virus rather than detecting the virus itself. So, while a positive test can indicate that you had a Coronavirus infection in the past—it may also be a sign that you still have an active infection, especially if it detects IgM. To confirm whether you have it or not, you would need to get an official COVID-19 test.
If you’re only in the early days of an infection, antibodies may not be detected at all, because your immune system is still building up a response. This limits the antibody test’s effectiveness for diagnosing COVID-19 and is why the official COVID-19 test should be used to diagnose COVID-19.
Who should get a COVID-19 antibody test?
It depends on how widely available the tests are. As the tests become easier to obtain, everyone should get it. Right now, however, health care workers and those people whose jobs involve interacting with the public should be priorities.
If you think you had COVID-19 symptoms, but were undiagnosed, speak with your doctor to see if you are a good candidate for this new test. You will need a referral from a doctor in order to receive the test. Insurance will cover this test; however, care must be coordinated through a medical professional to ensure the correct billing.
The results will determine whether or not your body has created antibodies for the Coronavirus, which would make you immune to the virus going forward. Confirmation of these antibodies in your system would also mean you could potentially donate your antibodies to others who are currently sick with COVID-19.
One of these tests does not replace the other. Rather, the official COVID-19 test is to diagnose those with current symptoms, whereas the antibody test is to identify possible immunity to the virus in the future. The most important thing to remember is that you must go through your doctor or a medical professional in order to get the green light to receive both the official COVID-19 test and the antibody test. Insurance will cover these tests when the appropriate billing codes are submitted by a medical professional. For additional questions regarding COVID-19 testing, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, don’t forget to check out our free Coronavirus pandemic related business resources.