As many states look to re-open after the quarantine, the issue of coronavirus antibody testing is becoming more and more paramount. Antibody testing enables researchers to have a better understanding of just how many people may have been exposed to COVID-19, including those who may not have had symptoms or been diagnosed. This information can prove helpful in predicting the spread of the disease and in forecasting “hot spot” areas.
Here’s everything you need to know about COVID-19 and coronavirus antibody testing.
How Does Antibody Testing Work?
When your body has an infection, your immune system will eventually identify the infection and release specific antibodies that are designed to help fight it. Antibody testing is not diagnostic; in other words, it’s not looking for the virus itself. Antibody testing reveals if your immune system has reacted to COVID-19, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with it or experienced any symptoms.
There are two different types of antibody tests currently available. Both require a blood sample and must be conducted by medical professionals.
Is It Accurate?
Antibody tests usually look for two kinds of antibodies: IgM antibodies, which are usually detected at the beginning of an infection, and IgG antibodies which are usually found after a patient has recovered. It usually takes four weeks before IgM antibodies can be detected, but scientists are still unsure of this timeframe when it comes to the coronavirus.
The most important factors in antibody testing are sensitivity and specificity. Sensitivity ensures that the test can accurately detect the antibodies and specificity rules out the likelihood of false positives.
The FDA relaxed restrictions on testing kits in March in an effort to get tests more widely distributed. However, it has now become apparent that many of these tests were unreliable. As of today, only ten tests have been FDA approved. The FDA is now requiring anyone selling antibody tests to become FDA authorized by submitting data that proves their tests are 90% sensitive and 95% specific.
Do Antibodies Mean You’re Immune?
No. Unfortunately, there is still not enough information about COVID-19 to determine what level of antibodies would provide immunity or if immunity is even something that is possible for this virus. There is no definitive information that indicates if you have been exposed to COVID-19 or even recovered from it that you will not contract it again. The hope is that antibody testing will enable scientists to better understand the virus and determine if and how immunity is possible.
Who Should Get Tested?
Healthcare workers will be among the first to be offered antibody testing, but it is still not widely available.
If you are interested in being tested you should contact your healthcare provider to find out what testing options are available in your area. However, if you think that you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 you should contact your healthcare provider immediately to arrange testing.
While antibody testing cannot yet guarantee immunity from COVID-19 it is an important piece in understanding the virus. Antibody testing will provide crucial information on how the virus spreads and hopefully also lead to potential treatments or preventatives.