Understanding Antibody and PCR Testing

Despite the availability of vaccines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, testing is still a critical and practical phase in diagnosing and containing this global pandemic. In response to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, different test options are made available with the demand for an accessible test.

Standard test options the healthcare profession uses for diagnosing COVID-19 are polymerase chain reaction (PCR), Lateral flow tests (LFTs), Antibody (or serology) tests.

Understanding Antibody and PCR Testing

As new tests are made available, it is essential to understand which test is suitable for different situations as these tests have a varying degree of accuracy. This article will compare the difference between an Antibody and PCR test.

What is Antibody Testing?

According to a study in journal immunity, researchers discovered that people who recover from mild cases of COVID-19 also produce antibodies (proteins your body creates to fight infection) for at least six months.

COVID-19 antibody test (serology test) is the least commonly used testing option for diagnosing COVID-19. This test searches explicitly for COVID-19 antibodies in your blood following an active infection.

While an antibody test effectively evaluates the immune response of people who have had a previous episode of a COVID-19 infection, it is not suitable for diagnosing an active condition.

The presence of antibodies in your blood means that you have some level of immunity against COVID-19; however, there is no evidence on the potency of these antibodies preventing a re-infection of COVID-19; therefore, it is best to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines strictly.

How to Take Samples

To test for antibodies, authorized health care professionals will draw blood from your arm or your fingertip for analysis.

When Should I Take a Test?

Performing an antibody test sooner than expected can impact its accuracy. During an active infection, performing an antibody test may not detect antibodies as the immune response is just beginning to build up.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), you should perform antibody tests at least 14 days after the onset of symptoms.

The benefit of an Antibody Test

Doctors can extract plasma (convalescent plasma) from blood samples of recovering people from promoting a healthy immune response of patients with other underlying conditions against COVID-19 infection.

What is PCR Testing?

PCR test, also called a molecular test, is the most widely used test to detect active COVID-19 infection. These tests screen for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material (RNA) in fluid samples (swabs).

During lab analysis, the introduction of DNA polymerase to nasopharyngeal samples helps replicate copies of the viral RNA to signal a positive result. PCR results may be available in a couple of hours (1-2 hours) or days, depending on if the samples were processed immediately or transported to a lab for analysis.

PCR is a more accurate test and can detect minute traces of viral RNA in the body before symptoms.

How to Take Samples

An authorized health practitioner will collect your fluid samples using a nasal swab, throat swab, or spitting into a tube for processing.

When Should I Take a PCR Test?

You should take a PCR test if you have had contact with an infected person or you experience symptoms of COVID-19 such as

  • Fever or chills.
  • Cough.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of taste or smell.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle or body aches.

What Test Result Means

A positive PCR test indicates that you have an active COVID-19 infection and should self-quarantine for at least 10days to prevent the spread of the virus.

A negative test is an indication that you don’t have the virus; however, if you experience symptoms of COVID-19, you may receive a false negative result. It is best to self-quarantine and order a re-test.

Knowing your COVID-19 status is an efficient way to prevent the virus’s rapid spread. If you suspect any disease symptoms, consult your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. Always adhere to COVID-19 preventive measures to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Tags: Health Tips

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