Did you have an oddly long-lasting cold in the first few months of 2020? Or, maybe you experienced a cough or other COVID-19-like symptoms recently but never got around to getting tested. You may be wondering, “Have I already had COVID?” 

If you are curious as to if you’ve had COVID-19 in the past, you should consider antibody testing. Last week, I shared a blog on diagnostic COVID-19 testing. Unlike diagnostic testing, antibody testing does not indicate if you currently have COVID-19. Instead, antibody testing lets you know if your blood possesses COVID-19 antibodies, which would be present if your body already fought off COVID-19 in the past.

Why Should You Get COVID-19 Antibody Testing?

Although COVID-19 diagnostic testing gets most of the attention, there are many reasons to get COVID-19 antibody testing as well. In my opinion, these are the top three: 

  1. To understand your own body and physical health. Personally, I want to know if I had COVID-19 just for the sake of understanding my own personal health. For example, if you experienced major fatigue in the past year, you could have had COVID-19 or you could have a serious, chronic condition that needs medical attention. It may also be helpful to put your mind at ease, to know for certain if you did or did not have COVID-19 in the past. Although more research is needed, antibodies may mean you have immunity against COVID-19; however, the extent of immunity and how long immunity lasts is currently unknown.
  2. To help people currently fighting COVID-19. If you have COVID-19 antibodies, you can donate plasma (called “convalescent plasma”) to help people currently suffering from COVID-19. Your antibodies may be able to boost their ability to fight the disease. Essentially, you could help people prevent major COVID-19 complications, or even save lives. If you’re interested in donating convalescent plasma, you can learn more here.
  3. To contribute to important public health data. The United States’ response to COVID-19 requires up-to-date information about the spread and symptoms of COVID-19. By getting antibody testing, you contribute to the nations’ understanding of COVID-19 immunity (i.e., ability to resist a disease), symptoms (e.g., how many people are asymptomatic? How severe are symptoms typically?), and spread (e.g., how easily does COVID-19 spread throughout a community?). Without this information, we won’t be able to go back to normal, pre-pandemic life. 

How Does COVID-19 Antibody Testing Work?

COVID-19 antibody testing involves getting a finger prick or a blood draw from a vein in your arm. The blood sample is tested to determine if antibodies are present. Results can be received same-day in many locations, or between 1-3 days in other locations. 

How Should I Interpret COVID-19 Antibody Test Results?

  • Positive antibody test results. If you test positive, you likely had COVID-19 in the past, although you could have had another virus from the coronavirus family. Because we still don’t know to what extent and for how long antibodies provide protection from COVID-19, you should continue to practice social distancing and take other COVID-19 precautions.
  • Negative antibody test results. You may not have had COVID-19 in the past OR you may have had COVID-19 too recently to develop antibodies. Typically, people develop antibodies within 1-3 weeks of infection; however, some take longer. If you have had COVID-19 recently, you may still be contagious and need to take extra precautions.