A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

COVID-19 screening vs. testing vs. antibody testing: What’s the difference?

Screening v. Testing v. Antibody testing graphic

You may be hearing more and more about screening and testing for COVID-19. Although screening and testing sound similar, they are actually quite different.

Editor’s note: This article was published on May 20, 2020. COVID-19 information and recommendations are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or view our most recent COVID-19 blog posts.

You may be hearing more and more about screening and testing for COVID-19. Although screening and testing sound similar, they are actually quite different.

COVID-19 screening

For COVID-19, screening at entrances to health care facilities and businesses may take place regardless of whether you have COVID-19 signs or symptoms. Screenings are precautionary and could include answering a few, brief questions and having your temperature taken.

Marshfield Clinic Health System provides health screenings to all patients, visitors and staff when entering our facilities. If you screen positive, your provider will determine if a COVID-19 test is needed.

COVID-19 testing

Two kinds of testing are used: COVID-19 viral tests and antibody tests. The viral test indicates if you have a current infection, while the antibody test indicates if you had a previous infection. These tests are given according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Nasal swab test

COVID-19 nasal swab testing occurs when a health care provider determines that symptoms are such that testing is warranted. For example, testing may be ordered if you are exhibiting signs of fever with a temperature greater than 100 degrees, a new cough (within the last day or two) or shortness of breath that is not due to allergies or a chronic condition, and you are concerned that you may have been exposed to COVID-19. Testing also could occur to investigate something detected during a screening.

Testing involves checking a sample from your respiratory system by swabbing the inside of your nose. It can take 1-2 days to receive results from the lab.

Antibody testing (blood test)

COVID-19 antibody testing (or serology testing) is used for primarily for epidemiologic purposes to help determine how much of the U.S. population has been infected. Antibodies can be found in the blood of people who are tested after infection and can indicate if people have had an immune response to the infection.

At Marshfield Clinic Health System, antibody testing is used to identify potential convalescent plasma donors and support epidemiologic studies. This form of testing should not be used to diagnose COVID-19 or assess protective immunity. CDC states that at this time, we do not know if antibodies make you immune to the virus.

Talk to your provider if you have questions about COVID-19 testing.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

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