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Health and Fitness News

Exposed!

Have you had COVID-19? An antibody test is your best way to know for sure.

Maybe you had a slight sore throat, fever, or fatigue a few weeks ago but never got tested for COVID-19. It never turned into a severe infection so now you wonder if you could have had a mild case. Or perhaps you never had any symptoms of coronavirus, but you know it’s possible to be asymptomatic. To find out if you had the virus, you’ll need to have an antibody test.

What is an antibody test and how reliable are the results? Keep reading to find out.

What Is the Antibody Test?

When your body is exposed to a virus, your immune system goes to work to fight it off. As the immune system fights infection, it develops antibodies. These proteins bind to the antigen virus molecules to destroy them. Once you’ve fought off a virus, specific antibodies remain in your blood. This is the same thing that happens when you get a vaccine. A vaccine exposes you to dead or weakened viruses so your body can develop antibodies and be immune in the future.

Requiring either a finger prick or a blood draw, a COVID-19 antibody test is able to detect the presence of specific antibodies in your blood if you’ve previously had a COVID-19 infection, whether or not you had symptoms. The antibody test is different from a COVID-19 test (PCR test), which is used to diagnose a current infection.

It normally takes one to two weeks for your body to develop antibodies after the start of symptoms. For this reason, you need to wait at least eight days after symptoms begin to have an antibody test. Otherwise, if you’re currently infected with COVID, you may have a false-negative result.

Why Get an Antibody Test?

Getting an antibody test will tell you if your immune system has been exposed to the coronavirus in the past. Why is this important? Self-education and to help health officials better understand just how widespread the virus is.

Since many cases of the virus are asymptomatic and others require no medical care, the antibody test can help scientists determine how the virus typically affects people. With the results, scientists can learn what will happen if someone who was previously infected gets exposed again. Is someone immune for a short time, forever, or not at all? Could antibodies in blood plasma (known as convalescent plasma) be used to help treat those who are severely ill with the virus? Research is ongoing to find out. If the answer is yes and you’ve recovered from COVID-19, your plasma may be in high demand at your local blood bank.

Are the Results Reliable?

Unfortunately, the results of the antibody test are not 100 percent accurate. The results will be either positive, negative, or not available, but there may be false negatives or false positives. A result of “not available” means your results aren’t ready yet or your blood hasn’t been tested.

A positive antibody test is taken to mean you’ve been infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the past and a negative test means you’ve not been exposed. If you live in an area of the country with few cases of COVID-19, you’re more likely to have a false positive result. Some false-positive tests mistake antibodies from SARS-CoV-2 for antibodies from another coronavirus, even one that causes a common cold. Someone with a positive reading but no symptoms is believed to be free of infection and can go about life as usual.