As the US attempts to improve and expand its testing capabilities to combat the spread of COVID-19, antibody tests are rapidly gaining public attention. Healthcare experts hope that these tests may allow us to return to our everyday lives sooner.
However, a recent report by infectious disease experts, released on May 20, stated that the public must regard antibody tests with caution. The tests check blood for immune responses to the COVID-19 virus, and indicate if someone has previously been infected. The report states that they are most useful for identifying plasma donors for patients, or for deciding how to organize patients when standard tests report a negative result.
Furthermore, as COVID-19 infections increase, many people are anxious to find out if it’s possible to be infected more than once; essentially, does recovering from the novel coronavirus give you blanket immunity from the virus in the future? The answers to this question will hopefully arise from widespread use of antibody tests. These tests do not diagnose active infections with COVID-19, as antibodies may not be detected until one to two weeks after one becomes ill with the novel coronavirus. Rather, the tests look for antibodies produced as a reaction to an infection, which remains in your body for some time after recovering from the illness.
These tests would allow us to reach normality faster, so why are these tests not readily available to the public? Infectious disease specialist Rekha Murthy, MD, states, “We expect a positive antibody test to be associated with protection against future infections. But since this pandemic has evolved so quickly, the data isn’t yet available to back up this interpretation.” These immunity tests are not readily available for COVID-19 because we have yet to find out how many antibodies are necessary to overcome the novel coronavirus completely.
Disease experts also still do not know how long COVID-19 antibodies last within the body of an infected victim. In addition, the virus may be similar to influenza, which regularly mutates. Therefore, forming antibodies against it may be impossible because they would only provide short-term immunity, instead of the preferred long-term immunity.
Furthermore, the antibody tests need to be approved by the FDA before they are available to the general public. At the moment, health care institutions have been working to validate tests by collecting antibodies from people who tested positive or negative from COVID-19. They will then run the tests on the antibodies from both groups, checking if they work consistently.
Once these tests are available to the public, health care professionals hope social distancing can be gradually reduced and the world will be able to return to some version of normalcy.
(Sources: CNN, Cedars Sinai)