How Soon After Contracting COVID-19 Will Testing Show My Results?


With COVID-19 now a part of our lives like the common cold and flu, it’s hard to know if you should take a COVID test every time you have upper respiratory symptoms. And when COVID symptoms appear, many people wonder when they should test and how soon testing shows reliable results.

The board-certified internal medicine providers at Prima Medicine in Fairfax, Merrifield, & South Riding, Virginia, are here to help. Our team provides personalized treatment for chronic and viral conditions, including testing for COVID-19 at our Merrifield location.

If you’re experiencing upper respiratory symptoms and worry about COVID-19, schedule an appointment for a COVID test with one of our providers. In the meantime, keep reading to get answers to your questions. 

What kind of COVID test is best?

Both in-person and at-home COVID tests can give you accurate results. 

The PCR tests at your provider’s office and pharmacies are very sensitive. They can test for COVID sooner and stay positive longer since the virus stays in your system after you’re not contagious. 

At-home tests are reliable, too. However, these rapid antigen tests need more of the virus to give a positive result. In other words, while a positive at-home test means you have COVID, a negative test doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have COVID—you just might not have enough of the virus in your system yet for a positive result. 

If this happens, test again after 48 hours. Be sure to mask up and avoid others in the meantime. You could also schedule an in-office PCR test at Prima Medicine in Merrifield right away since these tests are more sensitive.   

When should I test for COVID-19?

It can be challenging to know if you have a cold, the flu, or COVID-19. Since testing for COVID is readily available, it’s a good idea to test for the virus when you have any cold symptoms, even if they’re mild and you’ve been vaccinated. 

Your symptoms may be minor, but you can still spread the virus to others, who might have underlying issues that put them at higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. 

How long after getting COVID before testing works?

In-office and pharmacy PCR tests are far more sensitive, so if you’re exposed to COVID and have symptoms, you can schedule your PCR test right away at Prima Medicine’s Merrifield location. 

Because at-home COVID tests need a higher viral load (the amount of the virus needed to test positive), taking a rapid antigen test immediately after exposure may yield a negative test result, even if you have the virus. 

For this reason, the most reliable results for an at-home test are 5 days after exposure to COVID. You can test sooner, but if you have symptoms and take an early COVID test with a negative result, you should test again at 5 days.   

I got the COVID-19 vaccine. Why can I still get COVID?

No vaccine is 100% effective in stopping infection in 100% of people, including the COVID vaccine. This is because, with all vaccines, a small number of vaccinated people experience what’s called a “breakthrough” infection. 

Breakthrough infections happen when you get infected with the virus after vaccination. However, as with other vaccines, if have the COVID vaccine and then contract the virus, chances are you won’t get as sick as you would without the vaccine. 

In addition, if it’s been a while since your last COVID vaccine, your immunity against the virus is reduced. For the best protection, it’s best to stay up-to-date with new COVID vaccines and get a booster each fall.

If I test positive for COVID, how long am I contagious?

After getting COVID-19, you’re contagious for ten days. You’ll be at your most contagious in the first five days after symptoms start. However, you can still spread COVID-19 for another five days. 

For this reason, if you have COVID symptoms or test positive for COVID, wear a mask for at least 10 days from the start of symptoms. After that point (day 11), chances are you’re no longer contagious.

Can treatment help me recover from COVID faster?

If you get COVID-19 and are someone who is at higher risk of getting very sick with the infection, your Prima Medicine internist may prescribe antiviral treatments to lower your chances of hospitalization and death. 

These antiviral medications must be started soon after you develop symptoms, so don’t hesitate to see your Prima Medicine provider if you have risk factors that make severe illness more likely and or think you might have COVID-19.

Worried about COVID-19? Schedule an appointment for COVID testing with a Prima Medicine provider at our Merrifield, Virginia, location.

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