What We Do and Don't Know About Coronavirus Antibody Tests

There’s a lot we don’t know about the novel coronavirus that is behind the COVID-19 disease. Fortunately, we know that the number of new cases in New York is declining or leveling off. With the number of cases having peaked there in April, there are likely many people in the five boroughs of New York City who have antibodies in their system.

Antibodies are proteins that are called into action when there’s a foreign invader in your body, whether it’s a virus, bacterium, or parasite. These antibodies launch into combat to fight off this invader, in an attempt to keep you healthy. 

An antibody test, or antibody blood test, can indicate whether you have antibodies in your system. If an antibody test is positive, that means you most likely had COVID-19 at some point. 

Unfortunately, having antibodies in your system does not necessarily mean that you can’t develop COVID-19 again. At NY Family Docs, we know there are a lot of concerns and questions regarding COVID-19 and antibody tests. Our medical professionals share what you need to know about coronavirus antibody tests.

What is the difference between a diagnostic test for COVID-19 and an antibody test? 

An antibody test is different from a diagnostic test, which indicates whether you have an active case of COVID-19. A diagnostic test is generally only done for people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the underlying virus.  The test is performed by either a nose or a mouth swab.

An antibody test can’t confirm an active case of COVID-19. Antibodies can only be detected several days to several weeks after you have an infection. The test looks for antibodies that have developed in response to an infection. 

What does a positive antibody test mean?

An antibody test is conducted by obtaining a blood sample either from a finger prick or a blood draw. Results usually take about 1-3 days. If you test positive for antibodies, you should assume you’ve had COVID-19 at some point. 

However, in some cases, a test result will yield a false positive, which means that while your test result is positive, you don’t have the antibodies. In other cases, you could receive a negative test result for the antibodies, but have them in your system. This is called a false negative. 

Another possibility is that a positive test may mean that you have antibodies in your system due to an infection with another coronavirus, but not SARS-CoV-2, which leads to COVID-19.

Does a positive antibody test mean you can’t develop COVID-19 again?

The short answer: It may. However, health professionals don’t know how much protection these antibodies may provide or how long it may last. 

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or you’ve tested positive for antibodies from the virus that causes it, you should still take precautions to prevent catching or spreading the virus, such as wearing a mask and washing your hands frequently. 

For more information on protecting your family from COVID-19, call NY Family Docs, which has locations throughout Brooklyn and Queens, New York, with nine convenient locations. You can also send a message to the team here on the website.

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