Skip to main content

Lab testing methods for COVID-19 explained

Watch this video to learn more about lab testing for COVID-19, including the types of tests available and how these tests detect the COVID-19 virus.

Full transcript:

♪ [music] ♪ Whether you're on the front lines or behind the scenes, working 15-hour shifts or waiting to see patients again, you're making a difference in patients' lives. Thank you for all you're doing. We want to help by keeping you updated on COVID-19 testing. COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2, both terms are often used interchangeably. It starts with coronavirus as the main virus type.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2 is the exact virus that causes coronavirus disease or COVID-19, the 19 referring to the year 2019. Many lab tests for manufacturers will be marketed as SARS-CoV-2 tests or assays. You've probably heard about new tests for COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 in the market.

There are three types of tests: molecular, antigen, and serology/antibody. Each of these three methods detect the virus or exposure to the virus in different ways. During the rise of viral RNA and viral antigen levels, a molecular or antigen test detects the presence of the virus.

Serology/antibody tests detect the IgM and IgG antibodies that indicate the patient has developed a response to the virus, but does not provide definitive evidence of a current infection. Molecular tests tell us if a patient is actively infected with SARS-CoV-2. They detect the presence of characteristic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material, RNA, in respiratory samples of patients.

If the viral RNA is detected, it suggests that the virus might be present. Antigen tests quickly detect fragments of proteins found on or within the virus by testing samples collected from the nasal cavity using swabs. This is a diagnostic test designed for rapid detection of the virus that causes COVID-19. Serology/antibody tests detect antibodies that show a patient has been exposed to the virus.

According to the CDC, it typically takes one to two weeks for a patient to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. Because of this delay, antibody tests are not currently recommended for the diagnosis of COVID-19. Serology/antibody tests continue to receive attention during this pandemic.

To provide the best care, McKesson will only provide rapid antibody serology tests that are authorized by the FDA. Visit for their latest updates on serology/antibody testing. For more updates on McKesson's approach to lab testing for COVID-19, visit 

♪[music] ♪

© 2021 McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.