Covid-19: Swab test or antibody test – which is better?


In the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, aside from the physical distancing measures, one of the first actions put forth was to identify people who were infected with the virus by testing them for the disease. It is popularly known as the ‘Swab’ test, and used to determine if someone currently has Covid-19. The test has also proven to be useful in helping to control the spread of the virus, with the use of contact tracing.

‘Antibody’ testing, that can detect antibodies in people who have already been exposed to Covid-19, was only approved by Health Canada in Mid-May. Testing is limited right now and only beginning to roll out, starting with Health Workers and staff in hospitals and long-term care facilities. However, there are still many unknowns and questions being asked about both methods. Which test is better in the fight against the pandemic?

The Molecular ‘Swab’ test is now being used in communities to identify the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (causing the COVID-19 disease). It starts with the person blowing their nose and then tilting their head back in order to allow the health-care worker easy access to the nasal passageways. A long flexible swab is then inserted quite deeply into the nostril to the sinuses in the upper part of the throat. In order for enough material to be collected, it is then rotated around for several seconds before being removed. Most results are provided within 24 to 48 hours. If one receives a negative result from the test, it is good news, leaving them feeling relieved. However, there is a concern brought up by many people on social media; as soon as they leave the site where they were tested, they are still vulnerable to contracting the virus. Not realizing it, could lead them to relaxing their protective measures, such as taking more chances with proper physical distancing and using a facemask.

Antibody testing, known as ‘serology testing’ is only used after someone is fully recovered from having the Covid-19 virus. A health-care worker takes a blood sample and it is then tested to determine whether they have developed any antibodies produced by the immune system against the virus. If the results show they have the antibodies, it means they were infected with the virus at one point. However, the WHO (World Health Organization) has warned that there is not enough evidence to know whether one is actually immune to being reinfected with the virus, the level of immunity or how long it lasts. Right now studies are still being done. It presents a conundrum and the question of which is better – a swab test or antibody test? Even then, there really is no foolproof answer.

By: Bonnie Wurst –

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