Understanding the Difference Between the COVID-19 and Antibody Tests

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Gian Galassi
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Antibody Testing

Antibody testing for patients and the community

MADISON, Wis. – Differences between the COVID-19 test and the antibody test can be understandably confusing, but the distinction is an important one.


The antibody test detects whether your body has produced the antibodies needed to clear an infection and protect you from re-infection. Antibody tests are blood tests that can tell if you may have been previously exposed to COVID-19. The antibody test is NOT a test for COVID-19. The COVID-19 test determines whether or not a person currently has the disease. Any patients showing even one symptom of COVID-19 should call their provider or UW Health’s Hotline to inquire about a COVID-19 test.


The chart below further explains the differences between the antibody test and the COVID-19 test.


  COVID-19 Test Antibody Test
What does it test If you have COVID-19 If you may have had or were exposed to COVID-19
Who should get the test Anyone with any COVID-19 symptoms Anyone who thinks they may have been previously exposed
How is the test administered Swab of your nose/nasal passage Blood draw
What a positive test result means You have COVID-19 Your body produced antibodies to fight off COVID-19


The antibody test is intended for those who think they were exposed to COVID-19 and no longer have symptoms (or never had symptoms). It is not yet known whether those with COVID-19 antibodies have long-term immunity against re-infection. So, whether a patient’s antibody test returns positive or negative, the recommendations are the same: Continue to protect yourself by practicing social distancing, washing hands often and wearing face coverings in public.


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Date Published: 05/13/2020

News tag(s):  coronavirusdaily update

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