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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Antibody Testing


What Is Antibody Testing?

Antibodies (also called immunoglobulins) are proteins made by the immune system. Their job is to recognize and get rid of germs. After they're made, antibodies usually stay in our bodies in case we have to fight the same germ again.

Antibody testing lets doctors look for antibodies in blood. This sometimes can show if a person was infected by a virus or other germ in the past.

What Is Antibody Testing for Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Scientists have developed antibody tests for coronavirus (COVID-19). Testing a small blood sample lets doctors look for antibodies that a person's body may have made to fight the virus.

Some of these tests work better than others. The virus that causes COVID-19 is only one type of coronavirus — other types can cause colds. Sometimes, the tests can't tell the difference between COVID-19 and the other types of coronaviruses.

Also, doctors don't know if having antibodies to coronavirus (COVID-19) protects a person from being infected by the virus again. If there is protection, they don't yet know how long it might last.

Talk to your doctor to see if antibody testing for coronavirus (COVID-19) is right for you or your children.

How Is Antibody Testing for Coronavirus (COVID-19) Done?

An antibody test for coronavirus (COVID-19) uses a small blood sample. To get the sample, a health professional will:

  • Clean the skin.
  • Put an elastic band (tourniquet) above the area to get the veins to swell with blood.
  • Insert a needle into a vein, usually in the arm inside of the elbow or on the back of the hand.
  • Pull the blood sample into a vial or syringe.
  • Take off the elastic band and remove the needle from the vein.

Sometimes an antibody test can be done with a "fingerstick." The health professional will clean the finger, then prick the tip of it with a tiny needle (or lancet) to collect the blood.

Where Can I Learn More About Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Antibody Testing?

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites for information about testing and other updates on coronavirus.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: May 2020