SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM Rapid Test for the diagnosis of COVID-19

By Acharya Tankeshwar •  Updated: 10/09/20 •  8 min read

SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM rapid test is a lateral flow immunoassay intended for the qualitative detection of IgM and IgG antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in the blood (serum, plasma) from patients suspected of COVID-19. The SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM rapid test is an aid in the diagnosis of patients with suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection in conjunction with clinical presentation and the results of other laboratory tests.

Antibody detection tests are hard to develop but easy to administer. Having a reliable home testing kits for people who think they have had COVID-19 will be a game-changer.

Uses of SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM Antibody testing

SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM antibody testing is used for rapid screening of SARS‐CoV‐2 carriers, symptomatic or asymptomatic, in hospitals, clinics, and test laboratories. In addition to aiding in the diagnosis, it also reveals evidence of the previous infection and is thus useful; 

  1. To know how many asymptomatic cases have occurred in a population
  2. To know the immune status of high-risk individuals including healthcare professionals
  3. To check SARS-Cov-2 vaccines are working as intended during clinical trials
SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM assay
SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM assay

Results from the SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM Rapid Test should not be used as the sole basis for diagnosis.

IgM antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 are generally detectable in blood several days after initial infection, although levels over the course of infection are not well characterized. IgG antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 become detectable later following infection. Positive results for both IgG and IgM could occur after infection and can be indicative of acute or recent infection.

SARS-CoV-2 IgG and IgM in Blood
Variation of the Levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA and Antigen, IgM and IgG after infection.
(Source: diazyme)

Everybody, especially medical personnel want to know if they already had COVID-19, and is therefore probably immune to infection and can continue their work without fear of infection.

Sensitivity and Specificity of SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM assay

The evidence regarding SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM assay is currently scarce. Zhentgu et. al., reported overall testing sensitivity of 88.66% and specificity of 90.63% for IgG/IgM assay. This means out of 100 people having COVID-19, this test will show positive results only for 89 people (i.e., 11 people will have false-negative results). Similarly, if we test 100 COVID-19 negative people with this test system, it will give positive results for approximately 9 people (i.e., 9 people will have false-positive test status).

We need more research and publication to establish the diagnostic accuracy of SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM assay.

Negative results do not preclude SARS-CoV-2 infection and should not be used as the sole basis for patient management decisions. IgM antibodies may not be detected in the first few days of infection; the sensitivity of the SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM rapid test early after the infection is unknown.

There are many proteins (antigens) of SARS-CoV-2 and each elicit antibody responses to some extent. So far, we have little knowledge regarding which antigens are best on mounting immune response. Currently, spike protein and nucleocapsid protein are chosen as a suitable candidate. If the chosen protein antigen is not unique, false-positive results will come from people who are immune to other coronaviruses, for example, SARS.

False-positive results for IgM and IgG antibodies may occur due to cross-reactivity from pre-existing antibodies (e.g. previous infection with other coronaviruses which have similar antigenic structure) or other possible causes. At this time, it is unknown for how long IgM or IgG antibodies may persist following infection.

Some scientist argues that once people produce antibodies against a particular coronavirus, they probably have immunity for life.


The test kit comes with a test cartridge, sample dilution buffer, and a package insert. It also contains external positive and negative controls, to monitor for failures of antibody detection reagents and reaction conditions:

Cassette design for the detection of COVID-19 Antibodies

A typical immunochromatographic test strip for the detection of IgG or IgM antibodies formed against SARS-CoV-2 consists of;

  1. Sample well: an absorbent pad onto which specimen is applied,
  2. Conjugate or reagent pad that contains SARS-CoV-2 recombinant antigens conjugated with colloidal gold (SARS-CoV-2 conjugates) and rabbit IgG-gold conjugates
  3. Nitrocellulose membrane strip containing the test line and control line.
    1. Test line:
      1. IgG line: immobilized anti-human IgG
      2. IgM line: immobilized anti-human IgM
    2. Control line: immobilized goat anti-rabbit IgG
  4. Waste reservoir composed of another absorbent pad (wick assembly) designed to draw the sample across the reaction membrane by capillary action.


SARS-CoV-2 IgM/IgG Assay

SARS-CoV-2-IgG/IgM assay is a lateral flow immunoassay used in diagnostic laboratories. For the detection of IgG and IgM antibody against SARS-CoV-2.

When the test specimen is dispensed into the sample well of the test cassette, the specimen migrates by capillary action along the cassette. When the fluid reaches a conjugate pad, the test antibody if present in the specimen, antigen-antibody-conjugate complex is formed.

  1. Anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG, if present in the specimen: Formation of SARS-CoV-2 Conjugate-IgG complex (i.e., Human IgG-SARS-CoV-2-Ag-SARS-CoV-2-Ab (rabbit)-colloidal gold)
  2. Anti-SARS-CoV-2 vIgM, if present in the specimen: Formation of SARS-CoV-2 Conjugate-IgM complex (i.e., Human IgM-SARS-CoV-2-Ag-SARS-CoV-2-Ab (rabbit)-colloidal gold)

SARS-CoV-Ab-conjugate complex continues to migrate across the membrane until it reaches the capture zone where the complex will bind to immobilized antibodies.

  1. IgG test line: This test line contains anti-human-IgG, so it will only bind with SARS-CoV-2-conjugate-IgG complex.
  2. IgM test line: This test line contains anti-human-IgM, so it will only bind with SARS-CoV-2-conjugate-IgM complex.
Schematic diagram for SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM assay
Schematic diagram for SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM assay

As more and more Ag-Ab complexes are captured at the “test” lines, the line becomes visible (red line) on the membrane depending on the presence and amount of antibodies in human blood. If the specimen does not contain SARS‐CoV‐2 antibodies, no labeled complexes bind at the test zone and no lines could be observed.

The sample then migrates further along the strip until it reaches the control zone where excess conjugate binds with anti-rabbit IgG (remember; conjugate contains SARS-CoV-2 rabbit IgG, and control line contains anti-goat-anti-rabbit-IgG) producing visible line (control line) on the membrane. This control line indicates that the sample has migrated across the membrane as intended. The presence of a “control” line only indicates that the test was performed properly.


SARS-CoV-2-IgG/IgM assay procedure and interpretation
SARS-CoV-2-IgG/IgM assay procedure and interpretation
(Image source: Cellex)

Interpretation of COVID-19 serological (IgG/IgM) test

Colored band on IgM test lineColored band on IgG test lineColored band on Control lineResultInterpretation
YesYesYesBoth IgM and IgM against SARS-CoV-2 presentInfection with SARS-CoV-2. Presence of IgM indicates its recent one, and presence of IgG indicates class switching already occurred.
YesNoYesOnly IgM against SARS-CoV-2 present (indicates recent infection)Recent infection with SARS-CoV-2
NoYesYesOnly IgG against SARS-Cov-2 presentPrior infection with SARS-CoV-2 (person is immune to SARS-CoV-2)
Yes/NoYes/NoNoTest invalidIrrespective of presence of test lines, if colored band does not appear in control line, test should be regarded as invalid.

Information regarding the immune response to SARS-CoV- 2 is limited and still evolving. At this time, it is unknown how long IgM or IgG antibodies may persist following infection.

References and further readings

  1. COVID-19, lgG/lgM Rapid Test, Antibody Detection, Blood Test, Serological Test, Coronavirus Disease, Lateral Flow Immunoassay. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2020, from
  2. Li, Z., Yi, Y., Luo, X., Xiong, N., Liu, Y., Li, S., Sun, R., Wang, Y., Hu, B., Chen, W., Zhang, Y., Wang, J., Huang, B., Lin, Y., Yang, J., Cai, W., Wang, X., Cheng, J., Chen, Z., … Ye, F. (n.d.). Development and clinical application of a rapid IgM-IgG combined antibody test for SARS-CoV-2 infection diagnosis. Journal of Medical Virology, n/a(n/a).
  3. Why Do We Need Antibody Tests for COVID-19 and How to Interpret Test Results. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2020, from
  4. Petherick, A. (2020). Developing antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2. The Lancet, 395(10230), 1101–1102.
  5. Zhao, J., Yuan, Q., Wang, H., Liu, W., Liao, X., Su, Y., Wang, X., Yuan, J., Li, T., Li, J., Qian, S., Hong, C., Wang, F., Liu, Y., Wang, Z., He, Q., Li, Z., He, B., Zhang, T., … Zhang, Z. (2020). Antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in patients of novel coronavirus disease 2019. Clinical Infectious Diseases: An Official Publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Acharya Tankeshwar

Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. As an asst. professor, I am teaching microbiology and immunology to medical and nursing students at PAHS, Nepal. I have been working as a microbiologist at Patan hospital for more than 10 years.

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4 responses to “mRNA Vaccine: What it is and How it works?”

  1. SANDHYA says:

    Good morning sir. Very good information about mRNA vaccine. Thanks. My previous experience of Marek’s viral vaccine production using chick embryo cell culture recold me all the procedure again.

  2. Ifeanyichukwu Okeke says:

    Hello Sir. I have strong reservations about the efficacy of the mRNA vaccine.

    1. Being an RNA virus, SARS-CoV-2 will hardly maintain the same genetic composition at all times and places to remain immunogenically stable at all times and places.

    2. The viral protein produced lasts only a few days in the muscle. What happen after that, do we go for another vaccine after that?

    3. This protein antigen is presented by the antigen-presenting cells and triggers the activation of specific cells of the immune system. My question is do you think every individual or humans generally have the ability to initiate this activation?

    This mRNA vaccine technology was crafted from the technology used in primer construction. If there is the possibility of primer error, then, there will also be the possibility error in the construction of the mRNA vaccine. This type of error can be catastrophic when it has to do with vaccine.

    Thank you for all your efforts.

    Ifeanyichukwu Okeke.

    • Acharya Tankeshwar says:

      Dear Ifeanyichukwu Okeke
      Thank you so much for sharing valuable insights about the mRNA vaccine.

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