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What is a COVID-19 Antibody Test?

Recently, there has been a lot of information and questions circulating about COVID-19 antibody tests. The information can be overwhelming and may leave you asking, “what exactly IS an antibody test?”

Antibody tests check the blood for antibodies that indicate if a person has been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies are proteins that help to fight off infection. Antibody testing is not used to diagnose COVID-19.

It is generally believed that the presence of antibodies for a specific virus confers some degree of immunity against getting the infection again; however, for COVID-19 we do not yet know how long immunity may last. Therefore, determining if someone once had COVID-19 doesn’t tell us with certainty if or for how long someone is protected. In short, more data is needed to understand the body’s immunity response after a COVID-19 infection.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is using antibody testing selectively to understand how widespread COVID-19 infection is in different communities to guide broad decisions about public health. The test is not used to develop treatment or management plans for an individual patient.

Reliant’s Position on Antibody Testing

Because of the uncertainty around COVID-19 immunity testing, Reliant Medical Group providers are not currently ordering antibody testing. This is because the results – either positive or negative – would not change our medical advice:

  1. If a person is positive for the antibodies (meaning it appears he/she has likely had the infection), we cannot ensure that person has substantial immunity from catching COVID-19 again. In this case, we would still advise taking protective measures, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, to avoid contracting the infection again.
  2. If a person is negative for the antibodies (meaning that he/she does not appear to have had the COVID-19 infection), our advice would be the same: practice recommended safety guidelines to avoid contracting the infection.

Of course, the COVID-19 situation is rapidly changing. We will continue to monitor guidelines for antibody testing, and respond appropriately.

4 Responses

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  1. Posted by Danielle Finlay

    I agree that offering these antibody tests can give the health department a more informed view of how many people have actually had the virus- and did not get really sick, be hospitalized or die. Right now, with only testing people that have symptoms, we do not have the total picture and therefore data and judgement about next steps are completely skewed. If the state knew that a greater number of people have actually had the virus and recovered, it could provide better guidance going forward.
    Plus the added benefit that the plasma from people with antibodies seems to help those that are really sick recover.
    I think that Reliant should rethink it’s position on this matter for the benefit of the health of all in Massachusetts going forward. Just because a person finds out they have has antibodies, doesn’t mean they will be reckless. It actually means they could possibly help those who are sick. Have more faith in people’s desire to do good.

    June 5, 2020 7:04 am Reply
  2. Posted by Harry Mishkin

    How about testing to see if one has covid-19; is this the nasal-swab test? And is it highly reliable, or have there been false negatives and/or positives?

    Does Reliant offer that test? If so could / should that test be given if one does not have symptoms?

    June 4, 2020 3:47 pm Reply
    • Posted by Reliant Medical Group

      We do offer nasal swab tests. Due to the amount of tests available nationally, we are not testing asymptomatic people at this time.

      June 4, 2020 3:56 pm Reply
  3. Posted by Woodrow Briselle

    While it may be the case that those with the antibodies might not have substantial immunity from catching COVID-19 again, there are two big benefits from doing this: 1) Knowing that more people were exposed to the disease but didn’t get sick enough to get the regular test (such as those people who thought they just had a really bad chest cold in February or March) would show a lower rate of infection for the disease and provide public health officials with more accurate data than they currently show (they only talk about percentages of those who’ve tested positive, and those are the really sick). 2) With the possibility of plasma donations helping those who are sick, a person who can receive the antibody test could then donate their plasma to help out.

    June 4, 2020 3:25 pm Reply

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