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What are the different types of coronavirus tests?

What are the different types of coronavirus tests?

There are three broad categories of coronavirus tests in the United States. Two diagnose if you have an active infection, and a third indicates if you have had the virus before.

Here’s how they work:


Most tests look for particles of the genetic material of the virus and require a nasal swab, which is taken by a healthcare professional and then sent to a laboratory. This is considered the most accurate way to diagnose an infection, but it is not perfect: the swab must be sampled well enough to detect any virus.

These tests usually take hours of processing in the lab, so you probably won̵

7;t get results for at least a day, although a handful of quick tests take about 15 minutes on site. Other genetic tests use saliva instead of a tampon.


A newer type of test looks for proteins found on the surface of the coronavirus, not the virus itself. These antigen tests are just coming to market, and experts hope they will help expand the tests and speed up the results.

Antigen tests are not as accurate as genetic tests, but they are cheaper, faster, and require less specialized laboratory equipment. They still require a nasal swab from a healthcare professional.

A recently approved Abbott test takes 15 minutes and can be performed in schools, offices and elsewhere.


Antibody tests look for proteins that the body produces to fight infections in a patient’s blood sample. The antibodies are a sign that a person has previously had COVID-19.

Scientists still don’t know if antibodies protect people from another infection or how long that protection can last. So antibody tests are most useful for researchers who measure what part of the population is infected.


AP answers your questions about the coronavirus in this series. Send them to: FactCheck@AP.org.

Can I get coronavirus twice?

Has the coronavirus mutated in any significant way?

Can I use a face shield instead of a mask?

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