Thinking About Getting a COVID-19 Antibody Test? Here's What You Should Know First
As businesses begin to reopen and many cities return to some semblance of normalcy after weeks to months of lockdowns during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it's only natural to feel anxious about reentering public life. While antibody testing may seem like the simplest way to assess your risk of contracting the virus, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about immunity to COVID-19. Here's what you need to know about the process for testing and what conclusions you can draw from the results (hint: not many).
How Do You Get a COVID-19 Antibody Test?
"You'll need an order from a healthcare professional in order to get an antibody test done," Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a family medicine practitioner and regional medical director at One Medical, told POPSUGAR. She explained that her practice has started offering COVID-19 antibody testing "in an effort to better understand the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and to address the high demand for antibody tests among our patient population." Many doctor's offices, urgent care clinics, commercial labs, and hospitals have similarly adopted these tests.
If you're interested in antibody testing, Dr. Bhuyan suggests starting with your primary care physician. "We recommend that patients book a remote visit with their provider to discuss the nuanced benefits and limitations of antibody testing, and to decide which test(s) to order," she said. At that point, if you come to the conclusion that a test is the right step, you'll be guided to a lab or facility for a blood draw or finger-prick test.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that some companies may be trying to capitalize on COVID-19 anxiety and sell fraudulent tests. Your best bet is to consult your healthcare provider, but if you don't have insurance (or a primary care doctor), you may be able to request a test directly through LabCorp.
What Is the COVID-19 Antibody Test Like?
Expect to answer a few questions, but the appointment should go relatively quickly. I personally received a finger-prick COVID-19 antibody test at my local clinic in San Diego. I made a request for an appointment online and was seen less than 24 hours later.
Before the test itself, a nurse took my temperature and pulse, and asked if I had experienced any symptoms of COVID-19. The physician assistant then explained how the test would work, what we were looking for and why, and administered a finger prick to draw a few droplets of blood. I paid a $50 fee for the test and visit, as it was not covered by my insurance — but the cost will vary depending on where you're tested and your insurance.
How Long Does It Take to Get Results For a COVID-19 Antibody Test?
It depends on the type of test — but anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. "Turnaround times for [blood draw] test results are typically a few days," Dr. Bhuyan said, referring to the process with One Medical patients. "Results are delivered to our members electronically through the One Medical app along with guidance from our providers."
I received a rapid antibody test at the clinic in San Diego. I got my results 10 minutes after the test was administered.
How to Interpret COVID-19 Antibody Test Results
While the presence of IgM or IgG antibodies could indicate if you've been exposed to COVID-19 and how recently, essentially nothing about your day-to-day habits should change based on the results. In my case, I tested negative for antibodies, so I have every reason to believe I could still contract COVID-19 — but even if I did have antibodies, I would have needed to continue social distancing, wearing a mask, and doing everything I could to protect myself and others.
Experts don't know yet if these antibodies offer protection from reinfection or if having them would prevent you from passing COVID-19 to others — and if so, for how long.
"What is more complex and uncertain is the meaning of the antibody test results," David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, told POPSUGAR. "A negative antibody test does not mean you don't have the infection. A positive test does not mean you are immune to this infection. And none of these tests have undergone the rigorous testing for accuracy and consistency required to gain full FDA approval."
Until experts know more, you should follow the advice of your doctor and public health officials, regardless of your results. "Properly understanding antibody test results is crucial to keeping patients and others safe, and limiting further spread of the outbreak," Dr. Bhuyan explained.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.