by Carley Haft
The media is flooded with updates on testing for COVID-19 (2019 novel coronavirus), particularly testing for active infection and antibodies. The test for an active COVID-19 infection involves getting swabbed in the back of the nose. A positive test result indicates that a person has an active infection and can transmit the virus to others.1 Individuals who are infected with the virus, but do not have symptoms, can also have a positive test result. These asymptomatic individuals can also transmit the virus to others.2 A negative test result indicates that a person is not currently infected, however, it is unable to determine if the person has been infected in the past.1
The antibody test can help distinguish between a present and past COVID-19 infection. This test requires a blood sample and is similar to any other type of blood test.3 A negative test result indicates that the person has not been infected by COVID-19.3 In contrast, a positive test result indicates that the person has been infected by the virus at some point. People can test positive for antibodies if they have been infected with the virus in the past and have now recovered from the infection or if they are currently infected and contagious.3
Does having antibodies against COVID-19 mean that someone is immune to re-infection? Unfortunately, scientists do not know the answer to this question.4 Even if someone has antibodies, we cannot assume that the person will be protected if re-exposed.4 As we continue to learn more about this virus, we must all do our part: wash our hands, physically distance, and wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to ourselves and others.
- Center for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/diagnostic-testing.html
- University of California, Davis: https://health.ucdavis.edu/coronavirus/resources/covid-19-faqs-for-health-professionals.html
- Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/covid-antibody-tests/expert-answers/faq-20484429
- World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/immunity-passports-in-the-context-of-covid-19?gclid=Cj0KCQjw6uT4BRD5ARIsADwJQ18r4yFP0cvZECWFKnHd78yYcD0kcaCGKbkC1pn3U1IjBHU1dikxpEAaAgsPEALw_wcB
Carley Haft is the daughter of immigrants from Iran and grew up in San Diego, California. Her first languages were English and Farsi and she learned Spanish in high school and college. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Health and Biology from the University of Rochester and is currently a medical student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She serves on the executive board in the Latino Medical Students Association (LMSA) and is an active participant of the Latinx Health Pathway.