March 23, 2021
If you need to be tested for COVID-19, it’s important to know which tests are most commonly used, when they’re used, and how. Learning this information can help you stay well-informed.
Viral COVID-19 tests use nasal and oral swabs to detect and diagnose current COVID-19 infections. If you begin to experience symptoms, this test can help confirm a COVID-19 infection. There are two types of viral tests:
Over the past year, advancements in COVID-19 testing have increased overall accessibility and testing capacity. Different types of viral COVID-19 tests include:
An antibody or serology test is a blood test that can help determine whether you had a past infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. This test looks for antibodies produced by your immune system after infection. Since these antibodies are produced 1 to 3 weeks following infection, an antibody test should not be used to diagnose a current infection. If an antibody test is positive, it may mean that you have COVID-19 antibodies and temporary protection against another infection. However, this test is not 100% accurate. Antibody tests can also detect antibodies from other viruses in the coronavirus family of viruses, such as the one that causes the common cold. If your antibody test is positive, there’s a chance the antibodies may not be from a previous COVID-19 infection, so it’s important to have a healthcare professional review your results.
If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, you should contact your doctor. They can assess your condition and order a COVID-19 test for you, if needed. If you think you may have COVID-19 or your doctor recommends you be tested, use our COVID-19 Test Site Finder to search for a testing location close to you. In addition to your doctor’s office, testing locations may include pharmacies, school health clinics, long-term care facilities, urgent care centers, or temporary drive-through testing locations.
You should avoid going to the emergency room for a COVID-19 test. Only go to the emergency room if you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure, or the inability to stay awake.
For updates and information on COVID-19 during the pandemic, visit our Coronavirus Resource Center.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration website: fda.gov.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: cdc.gov