Iowa Specialty Hospital

Serology Testing: Understanding Antibody Testing for COVID-19

What does serology (antibody) testing for SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) mean?

If your antibody testing for COVID-19 is positive, it most likely means that you have previously been infected with COVID-19. If you had prior symptoms that were typical of COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of taste or smell) since mid-March, it is likely those symptoms were caused by COVID-19. It is possible to have been infected with COVID-19 without having any symptoms, but it is also possible (though rare on a highly accurate test like we use) for a person to have a false positive antibody test.

Are all antibody tests the same?

No. The body makes many different antibodies to any virus. Antibody tests can test for any of these many different antibodies. Also, some tests are more accurate than others. Many antibody tests that have been sold for COVID-19 (sometimes even by hospitals or clinics) have not been proven to be accurate because they were hastily developed. The antibody test used at Iowa Specialty Hospital was developed by Abbott Laboratories, which is a well-established lab that did proper research to show that the test is accurate more than 99% of the time.

Will an antibody test be positive immediately after infection?

No, it takes time to develop antibodies. We recommend waiting at least 14 days after a suspected infection to have an antibody test. If you are concerned that your current symptoms are because of COVID-19 a different type of test that requires a swab of the nose is a better option.

If I have a positive antibody test for COVID-19, am I immune?

For most infections, having a positive antibody test means that a person is at least temporarily immune. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is such a new illness that scientists have not been able to determine for sure whether this is true for COVID-19. It may be that having antibodies gives a person immunity for months or even years, but it is also possible that if the virus mutates that the person would not be immune to the new mutated strain.

Do I have to follow social distancing precautions and wear a mask if I have a positive antibody test?

We strongly recommend continuing to wear a mask or face shield and continuing social distancing precautions even if you have a positive antibody test. This is important because even if you yourself have immunity and won’t get sick if you are exposed to the virus again, you may still be able to spread the virus to others. For that reason, it is wise to continue to follow the same precautions everyone else does even if you have a positive antibody test.

If I still have to follow the same precautions, what is the point of having the test?

Knowing that someone has antibodies for COVID-19 is useful for two main reasons. First, someone with antibodies can donate plasma that contains these antibodies to use as a treatment for someone else who gets sick with COVID-19. Second, knowing how many people have had COVID-19 in the past helps medical personnel and government leaders better understand how much risk of further spread there is in different parts of the country. When more people have been infected previously, it becomes harder for the virus to spread in an area.

How do I get tested and how much will it cost me?

If you have not previously tested positive for COVID or been symptomatic but would like to have the antibody testing you can present to either the Clarion or Belmond main campus Monday-Friday from 8-4 and request the Wellness COVID-19 antibody testing. The cost for this test is $30 and the money will be due at the time of testing.  

If you have previously tested positive for COVID than the serology testing could be billed to your insurance. Per the Federal mandate it would be covered at 100% by insurance as preventative care during this public health emergency if ordered by a provider based on direct exposure or relevant symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of taste or smell). Please call your provider office to request an order if you would like it billed to insurance.

What do I do if I have questions about my test results?

You are welcome to call the clinic and set up a consultation visit with your provider. For your safety and convenience this can be provided via telehealth, telephone or a face to face visit. This will be considered a billable visit with your provider. Please call our toll free number 844-474-4321 to schedule your appointment.

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