There’s been a lot of talk about antibody testing lately and its respective uses. It’s been touted as a possible way to determine who can re-enter the workforce and as a way to more accurately trace how widespread exposure to the virus really is. However, the accuracy of the tests and its use as a determination of immunity has been called into question. So how does antibody testing actually work and what can it reliably be used for?
Antibodies develop to fight foreign pathogens that enter the body. The antibody tests, also known as serology tests, read the presence of these antibodies which indicate exposure to the virus. A number of antibody tests are currently flooding the market, although the FDA has only granted emergency approval to twelve. The accuracy of many of these tests is questionable. As they are currently being administered, they cannot distinguish between COVID-19 antibodies or another coronavirus. Even the FDA approved tests tend to have a high rate of false positives and negatives, which makes them relatively unusable for individual cases. On top of that, despite claims otherwise, the presence of antibodies does not automatically guarantee immunity from COVID-19. (Read more about the variation of antibody testing accuracy here.)
So why get an antibody test? As testing and trials continue, the accuracy of these tests is expected to increase. And when broadly administered, they do help officials get a better idea of true infection rates, thought to be much higher than currently reported due to asymptomatic carriers. If you think you may have had COVID-19 and want to get a test, research which brand your health care provider is using and understand that the presence of antibodies does not mean you can go out and about and ignore safety protocols. Donating your plasma for researchers could be helpful to fight the virus and if you suspect you have been exposed, a test might be a useful corroboration.
Antibody tests do not take the place of diagnostic tests. If you believe you have COVID-19, or are experiencing symptoms, let your health care provider know and ask about getting a diagnostic test. Antibody testing is meant to confirm prior exposure and becomes more accurate if administered a couple weeks after symptoms have disappeared. As time goes on, scientists will continue to refine the process, hopefully allowing the tests to be a significant weapon in the fight against COVID-19.
For the FDA’s statement on antibody tests, click here.
For more information from the CDC, click here.
Yours in Strength,
The Take Back Control Team