Many families are asking whether their children should be tested for
COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to talk to their child's doctor about testing. Your pediatrician can help determine when testing may be a good idea based on infection rates and availability of tests in your area. They can also help you follow up on test results.
When testing may be advised
Generally, children with
symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested promptly to determine if they have an active infection. This is especially important if they are participating in
sports or jobs in-person so steps can be taken to find out who may have been exposed.Testing is also recommended before a child is scheduled for medical procedures such as surgery.
For children who had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, it's best to wait at least 4 days after exposure to be tested, unless they have symptoms of an infection. Close contact means having been less than 6 feet for at least 15 minutes from a person with confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.
Types of COVID-19 tests
There are currently two main types of COVID-19 tests: diagnostic tests and antibody tests. Your pediatrician can talk with you about what each test can and cannot do, and when tests can be most useful.
Diagnostic testing: Does your child have COVID-19 now?
A diagnostic or viral test can show if your child currently has a
COVID-19 infection. This type of testing may be used if you know your child was exposed to COVID-19, for example, or if someone in your household is showing symptoms.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. This is the "gold standard" test for an active infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It is sometimes called a molecular test. Many PCR tests use a nasal or throat swab or sometimes saliva for a test sample. You might get results the same day or up to a week later. The molecular test is very accurate and tells you if your child has COVID-19. It will not tell if your child had COVID-19 in the past.
Antigen test. Another kind of diagnostic test is an antigen test. It uses a nasal or throat swab. Results take an hour or less. Positive test results are very accurate. But if the test result is negative, a molecular test might be needed so you know for sure that your child does not have COVID-19. This is because antigen tests are less sensitive than PRC tests.
Antibody testing: Has your child had COVID-19 at some point?
antibody (serology) test checks a sample of your child's blood for special proteins called antibodies. The body makes these to fight off viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibody tests help show whether someone's immune system has been infected by COVID-19 in the past, even if there were no symptoms.
Antibody tests cannot detect a current COVID-19 infection. This is because it may take up to three weeks after your child first shows symptoms of being sick before the test can find antibodies in the blood sample. Many test locations can give you results the same day or within one to three days. Sometimes, a second antibody test is needed.
Scientists don't know yet if people who had COVID-19 can catch it again. That's why, based on what we know today, a positive antibody test does
not confirm protection against the COVID-19 virus. These antibody testing be used to make decisions about safe entering or returning to group settings like
child care, summer camps or dorms. Anyone with a positive anybody test should continue to take safety steps such as wearing
cloth face coverings and
After your child has a diagnostic or antibody test, it is important to talk with your pediatrician about positive or negative test results. If you have any concerns about your child's health, call your pediatrician.
Note: Adapted from “What type of coronavirus test should my child get?" AAP News.