Every day, we know a little more about this virus and how we will be able to resume our daily lives. We have all heard many government officials and authorities of the state and national health departments say that antibody testing will be a critical component to getting life back to “normal”, or at least a new normal, as we look forward to a post-coronavirus world. While many medical groups and labs are already in-market offering an antibody test to the public, we want to remind you that it is important that antibody testing must be rooted in well-backed research and accurate data, so we can reduce the chance of a second wave of infection. Dr. Sandra Kesh, Deputy Medical Director, explains what we now know about COVID-19 antibody testing and what Westmed is doing to secure, accurate and reliable tests for patients.
What types of tests does Westmed have for COVID-19?
We currently have a “molecular test” for anyone who has new symptoms that might suggest COVID-19. As a reminder, these symptoms include fever, chills (including “shaking” chills), cough, difficulty breathing (or shortness of breath), headache, unexplained muscle aches, sore throat, or loss of smell or taste. This molecular test involves entry of a swab into your nose, and requires an appointment with our Urgent Care Center, or with your primary care provider. A positive test means that you have COVID-19, and will likely have some immunity after you have recovered. Note: the molecular test is NOT an antibody test, and may confirm that you have an active case of COVID-19.
What is Antibody testing?
With an antibody test, we are testing to see if your body has made antibodies specific for SARS Co-V2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It’s important that the test is specific for these antibodies, and not antibodies you may have to other coronaviruses (which typically cause the common cold). If you’re using a test that’s not specific enough, a positive result won’t tell you whether you’re immune to SARS coV-2, or a more benign coronavirus.
When will we have a reliable antibody test at Westmed?
The test manufacturers are telling us we can look forward to having something reliable in May. They are working rapidly on this. It’s important to remember that none of the antibody tests currently on the market can guarantee that you’re immune to COVID-19, even with a positive result! They also can’t tell you for certain that you won’t get re-infected after another exposure, or how long your immunity will last. Those tests will likely take much longer to develop. That’s also why it’s so important to continue social distancing measures even as antibody testing becomes available.
Why is antibody testing so important to “reopen” the country?
The ultimate goal is to have an antibody test that tells you with certainty that you have lasting immunity, and would not get re-infected if you were exposed to the virus a second, third, or fourth time. Once we have testing on this level, we can more accurately measure at what point we have enough immunity to relax social distancing. This is called “herd immunity”. We are likely many months from that point.
When a reliable test becomes available, what will it look like?
When a reliable test becomes available, it will be a blood test. Our lab technicians will take a sample of your blood and will isolate the parts of the blood that have antibodies in them and turn it into a serum. If you have coronavirus antibodies, they will be found in this serum.