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Home / Tips and Tricks / Can Antibody Tests Detect Coronavirus Mutations? What you need to know

Can Antibody Tests Detect Coronavirus Mutations? What you need to know



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Antibody tests look for evidence that a person is infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, but not with the virus itself.


James Martin / CNET

Visit the WHO website for the latest news and information on the coronavirus pandemic.

Some researchers warn that a new strain of the coronavirus may be more contagious than previous versions, which could mean that more people are infected than the current models predict. However, other scientists warn that such fears are exaggerated and that the mutations observed so far are not significant enough to be considered as entirely new strains. That may be good news for antibody testing, which some say may be key to the end of social distance and reopening of the economy .

Antibody tests can be crucial because they are designed to show if you have ever had COVID-19 even if you have never had any symptoms or knew you were infected. If it turns out you were, you may now be immune to the coronavirus and may be around others without spreading disease. But if a virus mutates far enough from its original form, current antibody tests may not be able to detect it. That does not seem to have happened with the coronavirus yet.

Virus testing is complicated to begin with. With so many different blood tests nasal smears drive-through tests and home tests keeping track of what can be confusing. Then there are "antigen tests" and "serology" – are they the same? That's why we're here. To explain what antibody tests can and cannot do, and what such tests can tell us about COVID-19.

One more comment before we get started. This article is intended as a resource to help you understand current coronavirus testing, as presented by organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is not intended to provide medical advice. If you are looking for more information about coronavirus testing, find a test site near you (here is another way for Apple Maps users ). Here is how to know if you are eligible for a test and why there are no home coronavirus test kits yet. This story is updated regularly as new information comes to light.

What Is Coronavirus Antibody Tests?

An antibody test is a type of medical test that can help doctors determine whether you have ever been infected with the coronavirus, regardless of whether you have ever felt sick or not. This is important because many who contract the disease are asymptomatic .

Antibody testing, however, does not reveal whether you are currently infected with the virus, nor does it indicate whether you have recovered from it if you did. The test only shows if you had the virus at some point – nothing more, nothing less.


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Why is the antibody test so important?

A positive antibody test result usually means that you are immune to the disease being tested for. Although researchers do not yet know enough about COVID-19 to be sure whether you will be immune the hope is that people who have recovered from the disease will not be able to catch it again, or, for that matter, infect others.

If that turns out to be the case, once a high enough percentage of the population has developed immunity to coronavirus, a form of indirect protection called " herd immunity " can protect those who have not. . not yet exposed to the disease – and help end the pandemic.

Can Antibody Tests Tell You If You Are Immune To Coronavirus?

In other diseases caused by coronaviruses – such as SARS and MERS – a positive antibody test usually indicates some degree of immunity. However, the World Health Organization has warned that scientists do not yet know enough about this new coronavirus – technically called SARS-CoV-2 – to somehow say it. They are figuring it out.


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How does antibody testing work?

Antibody tests look for proteins in the blood called antibodies that remain after your body has battled a disease. When your immune system detects a new infection, your body starts to produce antibodies, which it then trains to fight that specific invader. These antibodies discover the weaknesses of the invader, neutralize, destroy and eventually remove it from your body.

After it disappears, your body continues to produce antibodies in case it ever comes back. That's what the antibody tests for coronavirus are looking for: the leftover antibodies your immune system has created to fight the coronavirus.

Where can I get an antibody test for coronavirus?

For now, you should talk to your doctor or another health care professional licensed to order laboratory tests. Guidelines vary by provider and by state, but generally you should have been asymptomatic for one to two weeks (including the day of the test).

Until last week, antibody testing was not generally available in the US, so healthcare providers and first responders have been prioritized. But from April 27, you can get an FDA-approved coronavirus antibody test at LabCorp facilities or at doctor's offices and healthcare facilities with a LabCorp technician (there are thousands across the country).

Currently only the LabCorp test and three other antibody test kits have been approved by the FDA under a rule that allows the use of medical devices during a public health emergency prior to the FDA assessment. Under a similar emergency policy, the FDA also allows the use of test kits from nearly 100 other manufacturers, but some experts warn that you should not trust such tests until they have been more thoroughly vetted.


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What is an antigen?

An antigen is a substance that usually comes from your environment and makes you sick when it enters your body. Common antigens are bacteria and viruses. Antigens cause your immune system to produce antibodies that fight back.

Antigens can enter your system in the same way that you introduce the substances you need to survive in your body. For example, you can breathe air antigens into your lungs when you breathe. Or you can put antigens in your mouth when, for example, you pick up an infectious substance such as the coronavirus from a surface with your hands and then touch your face.

Antigens can also enter your body through your ears, eyes and nose. . Rarely, but occasionally, can you absorb them through your skin.

How does antigen testing differ from antibody testing?

An antigen test is similar to checking whether you currently have the disease by looking for genetic information that is unique to a particular virus or bacteria. It tells doctors whether you are currently infected or not, but not whether you have been infected in the past and have since recovered.

Conversely, an antibody test only shows whether or not you have had the disease. in the past. It can take up to two weeks for antibodies to be detected in your blood – usually long after the virus is defeated and an antigen test would be negative.


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What is serology or a serological test?

Serology refers to the study of blood serum, and the vast majority of serological tests are done to detect antibodies. Other body fluids, such as saliva, can also be tested, but that's because they contain trace elements of blood, and that's what is actually being tested.

Serological tests can also determine the blood group when donating blood or receiving a transfusion. They can be used to measure the amount of medicines in the bloodstream, for example during a drug study. But most of the time, when experts use the phrase "serology" or "serology testing", they are talking about antibody testing.

While elevated antibody testing can accelerate the end of the lockdown, it is not the only thing that can accelerate the return to normal. Here's a look at what needs to be done before orders to receive shelter in the US begin to be lifted. If you or someone in your home contracts COVID-19, here are the steps to take to prevent the virus from spreading. And here's what you need to do to stay safe if you have no choice but to venture out in public.


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