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For the most up to date information on the coronavirus, please visit the CDC website.
Since the start of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, testing has been a main focal point for research epidemiologists, healthcare workers, and the public at large. There are two types of tests people can receive for the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19.
Viral Testing: Looking for a Current Infection or Carriers of the Virus
The first type of test is used to see if the virus is present during a current infection. These types of tests are known as viral or diagnostic testing. Viral testing is typically done by collecting a sample from the inside lining of the nose (nasopharyngeal swab) or a sample of saliva to look for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in the respiratory tract. If the sample is analyzed onsite (point-of-care test), results can be available within an hour. If the sample is sent out to a lab, results may take up to a few days to be processed.
Testing positive for the virus
Finding the coronavirus’s RNA (sort of a fingerprint) results in a positive test. Positive test results are reported to the state health department and tracked closely. Individuals with a positive viral test are considered contagious since the virus is easily transmitted through close contact from person to person. You can slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect others by following the CDC guidelines. Staying home and self-isolating are the advised first steps. If you must leave your home or see other people, always wear a mask or face covering. Most cases of COVID-19 are mild, and individuals can recover at home without the need for additional medical care. However, if you experience trouble breathing or other emergency warning signs, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Testing negative for the virus
A negative viral test for COVID-19 indicates that you most likely did not have an active coronavirus infection at the time of the test. Continue protecting yourself and others by practicing social distancing, handwashing, and wearing a face covering in public.
Antibody Testing: Looking for Evidence of a Previous Infection
The second type of testing, known as serology or antibody testing, looks for evidence of our body’s response to being infected (done as a blood test or finger-stick). This test looks at our blood for evidence that our bodies have mounted an immune response (defense) to the coronavirus. Part of our body’s defense system involves making substances called “antibodies” that help us inactivate and kill the coronavirus. It takes somewhere between ten days and three weeks to produce detectable antibodies to this coronavirus, and it is not yet completely clear how long the antibodies remain present in the human body after infection. At this time, it is uncertain whether having antibodies protects you from future infection.
Testing positive for coronavirus antibodies
A positive antibody test means your body reacted to the coronavirus, or possibly one that is similar. It is possible to test positive for coronavirus antibodies even without noticeable symptoms (asymptomatic cases).
Testing negative for coronavirus antibodies
A negative antibody test indicates you likely did not have COVID-19 in the past. However, it can take anywhere from ten days to three weeks to produce detectable antibodies, so a negative test does not mean you are not currently infected.
For more information: Guidance on Interpreting COVID-19 Test Results
It is important to remember that this particular coronavirus is new in human beings. It is going to take time for scientists to fully learn and understand how the virus works. In the meantime, it is important to protect yourself and others from the virus by practicing social distancing, handwashing, and wearing a face covering in public.
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