Seeking accurate antibody testing for COVID-19


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Dr. Mathew Devine, the Medical Director for Accountable Health Partners and Highland Family Medicine, discussed COVID-19 antibody testing Friday during News 8 at Sunrise.

Dr. Devine explained there are two types of testing being performed as it relates to the coronavirus. There are the Nasopharyngeal swabs that use cells extracted from a deep nasal swab to test for the COVID-19 virus in an individual.  This is run in a lab and it is called PCR testing. Then there is blood testing or serologic testing that looks for COVID-19 antibodies.  If the antibody is detected, in theory, that would mean the individual has been exposed and has made antibodies to protect them from the virus going forward.

The blood test for antibodies lets us know how many people in an area have actually had the virus.  Since there are many cases where an individual can have a mild case or even be asymptomatic this helps in planning for the safe return to schools, churches, and arts and entertainment venues.

Dr. Devine noted because of the pandemic, many antibody tests have been developed quickly. They’re not 100 percent accurate. If the tests have some accuracy issues there could be a false positive rate.  Therefore the CDC and others are forming collaboratives to look at identifying the available tests that have the best results so that these can be used with more confidence by health care teams. In addition, a second antibody test can help affirm a positive result from an initial test.

He added, antibodies most commonly become detectable 1-3 weeks after symptom onset, at which time evidence suggests that infectiousness likely is greatly decreased and that some degree of immunity from future infection has developed. However, additional data is needed before modifying public health recommendations based on serologic test results, including decisions on discontinuing physical distancing and using personal protective equipment.

Dr. Devine said URMC will roll out a testing platform next week.  “It will be a phased approach to test health care workers and then to test those who were ill in the beginning of the pandemic that we were not able to test.  Over time this will be more available to others in the community.  Others sites will also start this testing in the future as well.”

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