Highlights

  • IgM, IgG levels can tell the virus infection is recent or of the past
  • PCR can remain positive several weeks after active infection
  • Having antibodies doesn’t mean you are protected against virus

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Your definitive guide to Covid-19 | When should you get tested for Covid-19?

Tests for Covid-19 include the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic test, which is a nasal swab. There’s also an antibody test that can tell whether you had the infection in the past.

The biggest doubt that people have when it comes to Covid-19, is when to get tested.

Symptoms of Covid-19 are often similar to flu, which includes moderate to high fever, body ache, dry cough, headache, sore throat.

In case of Covid-19, you may experience more than one symptom, including loss of smell, which has been typically seen in case of Covid patients.

Tests for Covid-19 include the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic test, which is a nasal swab. There’s also an antibody test that can tell whether you had the infection in the past.

So, should you wait till you have symptoms to go and get tested? Or is it worth it to see whether you had an infection in the past?

When to get the Covid test?

If you've been exposed to someone with Covid-19, you should get tested whether or not you have symptoms.
If you begin to experience symptoms of the disease, you should get yourself tested and isolate yourself till the results are out.
But, if you get tested too early after exposure, it could be possible that you have a false-negative test.
If you've been exposed to someone with a confirmed case but do not experience any symptoms, you should still get tested because you might be an asymptomatic patient.
If you haven’t been exposed to the virus and don’t show any symptoms of Covid-19, you don’t require a test.

What does it mean if my Covid test is positive?

The virus’s incubation period is around 5 to 7 days, but it can be up to 14 days. A positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) means that you have detectable viral RNA. But this does not necessarily mean if you are infectious.

Despite a positive PCR, studies have shown for some people there was little to no culturable virus after about 9 to 10 days.

This means a person had an infection with the virus but tested positive long after they were no longer infectious to others. However, PCR can remain positive for several weeks after active infection.

The CDC says if you get a positive test, you should isolate at home for 10 days.

What is an antibody test & should you get one?

Antibody tests looks for immunoglobulin M (IgM) and immunoglobulin G (IgG) levels in your blood plasma, and they can tell whether you recently had an infection or had one in the past.

Antibody testing should be done in individuals who have Covid-19 symptoms but did not have immediate access to an RT-PCR test.

Typically, it takes about a week or two to develop antibodies after symptoms start. That’s why the antibody test isn’t ideal for diagnostic purposes.

Antibody testing could be useful for people with asymptomatic infections who experienced a Covid-19-like illness more than 14 days ago, from the day of the test.

Doctors have said, however, that having antibodies for the virus, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got protective immunity.

Physical distancing and mask use should still continue if you have a positive antibody test.

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