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What is the Difference Between a COVID-19 Swab Test and an Antibody Test?

Even as we approach the two year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, testing remains one of the most powerful tools in the fight to stop the virus’s spread. COVID-19 testing provides experts with insights and data about the disease and its spread. It provides actionable information to patients and people who fear they may have contracted COVID-19 or been exposed. COVID-19 testing also plays a major role in helping restore a sense of normalcy to work, travel, sports, concerts, and other events. 

While testing is such a powerful and prevalent tool, many people still have questions about what types of COVID-19 tests are out there, how they differ, when to get tested, and who should get tested. As COVID-19 testing has evolved, companies can now test for signs of current infections (swab tests) as well as signs of previous infections or vaccinations (antibodies), and turn around results quickly. In this blog, we will break down the differences between swab tests and antibody tests, who should get antibody tested, and why antibody testing is worth doing.

What is the Difference Between the Types of Tests available for COVID-19?   

There are several types of COVID tests available. Before comparing swab tests to antibody tests, let’s first examine the differences between the available types of swab testing. 

What is the Basic Difference Between a COVID-19 PCR Test and an Antigen Test? 

An antigen test looks for evidence of proteins that are found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus, whereas a PCR test looks for genetic material distinct to the virus that indicates an active infection. Both antigen and PCR tests require nasal swabs or saliva. It’s important to note that because antigen tests rely on viral load to detect the virus, they are not quite as accurate as PCR tests. In general the CDC cites PCR tests as highly sensitive whereas antigen tests are moderate to highly sensitive. 

Now that we know about the differences between swab test types, let’s look at the difference between swab and antibody tests.

What is the Difference Between a COVID-19 Swab Test and an Antibody Blood Test?

As mentioned above, swab tests use nasal swabs or saliva in an effort to detect active infections. Conversely, antibody tests require blood draws to detect the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood. For example, antigen vs. antibody tests examine very different things, and provide significantly different information to testers. Antigen testing provides information on current infections and potentially contagious individuals, whereas antibody testing provides insight into past infections and previously contagious individuals.  

COVID-19 Antibody Testing

For a better understanding of COVID-19 antibody testing, let’s look at who should get tested, what the results mean, and where to get tested.

Who Should Get an Antibody Test for COVID-19?

While antibody testing is important for companies and customers alike, it’s not always the most appropriate test. For example, if you wanted to know if you are currently infected, an antibody test would be the wrong choice since it takes up to three weeks after infection for antibodies to show up in your blood. 

Similarly if you want a COVID antibody test after a vaccine, just to see if your vaccine is still working, you might be wasting your time. The CDC suggests that antibody tests don’t tell you much regarding your vaccine’s efficacy because there is no way to tell how many antibodies are needed to be effective. Additionally, not all tests will pick up on antibodies generated from the vaccine as opposed to the infection itself.   

In fact, while the overall usefulness of antibody testing is still up for debate, the CDC recommends that you should only get antibody testing if your healthcare provider recommends it. This may lead you to ask “Why is COVID-19 antibody testing worth doing?” Essentially the answer is that healthcare professionals can make observations about things like the virus spreading, percentage of asymptomatic patients, and previous infections. 

What Does the Detection of COVID-19 Antibodies in My Blood Mean?

So, if you fall into the  category of people who should seek antibody testing for COVID-19, you may be wondering what your result actually means. If your test comes back positive for antibodies, it means there may be antibodies from a previous infection. This could be from both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. It is also possible that the test returned a false positive result. For any positive result, you should consult with your healthcare provider.  

Where Can I Get an Antibody or a Diagnostic Test for COVID-19…BioCollections 

Whether you are looking for a COVID-19 test for an active infection or to detect antibodies, BioCollections can help point you in the right direction. BioCollections is your one-stop shop for reliable PCR tests, safe customer experience, and fast results. BioCollections can help you find safe alternatives to covid antibody tests at home and over the counter antigen testing. Contact us to get tested today, and be sure to check out our blog for answers to all of your COVID-19 questions.

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