- Experts are rushing to develop tests that can identify who has recovered from COVID-19 and can be immune. These serological tests look for anti-coronavirus antibodies in the blood.
- Such tests provide faster results and are easier to produce than diagnostic tests that help doctors identify positive cases.
- A serological test that provides results within 15 minutes of a finger prick will be available in the United States for weeks. This could help immune Americans return to work and school.
- The blood of retrieved people could also be used to treat seriously ill coronavirus patients.
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It’s easy to wonder if the disease you had a few weeks ago was coronavirus, even if you may not have realized it at the time.
A new serological test could provide some clarity.
The test uses a few drops of blood to determine if you have antibodies to the coronavirus. If it does, it means you have caught the virus and have recovered from it (even if you have never received a positive diagnosis).
The presence of identifiable antibodies to coronaviruses in your bloodstream also means that you have likely developed immunity. In an interview last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was confident that recovered coronavirus patients would be immune.
Fauci said he would “be willing to bet anything that people who are recovering are truly protected from reinfection.”
This is why it is imperative to identify people who have been infected with the virus and who have recovered in the fight against the epidemic – these people could return to work or school safely while working. others would remain isolated.
“Ultimately, this could help us determine who can bring the country back to normal,” Florian Krammer, professor of vaccinology at Icahn Medical School on Mount Sinai, told Reuters. “Immunized people could be the first to resume a normal life and start all over again. “
Anti-coronavirus antibody tests are already widely used in China and South Korea. Many in the United States work in various university laboratories and private companies.
How blood tests work
Antibody tests are different from the typical diagnostic tests used to determine if a person has COVID-19. The latter involves taking samples of mucus and saliva and performing a laboratory test to see if these samples contain the genomic sequence of the coronavirus. This tells doctors if the patient has an active infection and the test results may take 24 to 48 hours.
A serological test, on the other hand, can tell if a person has anti-coronavirus antibodies in 10 to 15 minutes. The tests show bands of letters to indicate the results, similar to the way home pregnancy tests work.
“They either detect human antibodies in the blood using an antigen designed to be similar to a characteristic of the virus,” Charles Cairns, dean of Drexel University College of Medicine, told Science News. “Or vice versa, the test detects the virus in the blood using a [human-made] antibody designed to trap the virus. “
According to David Ho, CEO of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, a home kit includes a finger pricking needle, a 3-inch mixing stick and a test solution.
Antibody blood tests have been used for about two decades in other disease-monitoring initiatives, including for HIV in rural Africa, said Ho in a committee-sponsored video call of 100. The kits cost between 1 and 6 dollars each, he added, depending on the volume purchased.
Identifying Who is Immunized Against Coronavirus Could Help People Return to Work Earlier
Some US companies are already selling antibody tests to other countries. California biotech company Biomerica is selling COVID-19 antibody tests for less than $ 10 in Europe and the Middle East, according to Reuters. Chembio Diagnostics, a New York-based medical device company, is sending its antibody tests to Brazil and plans to study them in the United States, Reuters reported.
In Colorado, United Biomedical is working with a county to test 8,000 residents for COVID-19 antibodies. And Henry Schein Inc. has started manufacturing “several hundred thousand” point-of-care antibody tests and expects “considerably increased availability” in the coming month.
The British government bought 3.5 million home antibody tests last week, according to The Guardian, and is looking to distribute them to people who self-isolate as soon as possible.
Researchers at the Helmholtz Center for Research on Infections in Germany in Braunschweig want to send hundreds of thousands of antibody tests to residents in the coming weeks, Der Spiegel reported on Friday. Germany could even issue “immunity certificates” based on the results.
William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Reuters that political and business leaders liked the serological tests.
“These tests would be very interesting if they were cost-effective, readily available and easy to perform,” he said.
Blood from people who have recovered COVID-19 may help treat others
Anti-coronavirus antibodies in the bloodstream of people who have recovered may also help patients who are actively fighting infections.
Last week, the FDA approved emergency use of an investigational treatment using blood from people who have recovered from the coronavirus. This type of transfusion, which dates back to the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, is based on the transfer of antibodies from person to person.
The approach is promising: Five seriously ill coronavirus patients in China have improved after receiving plasma transfusions from patients who had previously suffered from coronavirus infections.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said last week that the state plans to start using plasma therapy for its COVID-19 patients.
Ben Pimentel contributed to the report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the FDA had granted “emergency use clearance” for an antibody test by a company called Biosphere. A company press release announced the news, but the FDA later said it had not yet approved such a test.