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Coronavirus antibody tests are very promising: everything you need to know about serological tests



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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.

Antibody testing is defended as a critical step to reopen the economy for good and end the social distance while we are waiting for a coronavirus vaccine . Where there are antibody tests, you may also hear about 'antigen testing' and & # 39; serology & # 39; all of which are an inspiring hope for a rapid return to normal . Add blood tests nasal smears drive-through test sites and home test kits to the conversation, and suddenly the means that it can all fade quickly.

Antibody tests have received a lot of attention lately because they are designed to show if you have ever had COVID-19 even if you never had any symptoms or knew you were infected. If it turns out you were, you could now be immune to the coronavirus and possibly be around others without spreading the virus.

But the question of what antibody tests can and cannot do, if they are reliable enough to tell us anything useful, and where and how to do the tests, creates a lot of confusion and debate. This is what we know so far – and don't know.

One more note: This article is intended to help you understand current coronavirus testing, as presented by organizations such as the US 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 on 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 Test?

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 or not you felt sick. This is important because many who contract the disease are asymptomatic .

However, antibody testing 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 sufficiently high 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 reveal whether you are immune to coronavirus?

With 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 don't 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 started fighting 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 you can absorb them through your skin.

How does antigen testing differ from antibody testing?

An antigen test checks 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 recovered since.

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 detectable 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 for in-place places are lifted in the United States. If you or someone in your house contracts COVID-19, here are the steps you should 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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