Stanford University is offering a new test to its doctors, nurses and other health professionals to find out who was infected with COVID-19 – and who could now carry antibodies that could protect them from re-infection.
“The test will allow us to determine which healthcare workers may be at low risk of working with COVID-19 patients, as well as to understand the prevalence of the disease in our communities,” said Lisa Kim, Stanford spokesperson. Health Care.
The blood test detects protective antibodies against the virus rather than the virus itself.
Health workers face the pathogen COVID-19 aerosol when they clean a patient’s airway, perform a tracheal intubation to help a patient breathe, or provide other care.
So far, the test is only offered to doctors, nurses and other potentially at risk Stanford workers, Stanford announced on Wednesday evening. But that bodes well for the day – ideally, not far away – when a test might be available to the wider community.
Such tests have many advantages: they are quick and affordable, they are portable and they do not require the long process of laboratory analyzes necessary for other methods.
Since the COVID-19 virus can cause little or no symptoms, many people are unaware that they have been infected. Or maybe they were slightly sick before COVID-19 made the headlines, and just looked at them as a cold or the flu.
The news follows the launch last week of a research project at Stanford using the same approach. This effort, which invited 2,500 members of the general community to have their blood tested for antibodies, was the first large-scale study of its kind in the United States. He was coordinated with the Santa Clara County public health department to find out more about the presence of the virus. in the county.
These blood tests find antibodies in the blood – molecules produced by the immune system – in response to a viral attack. Even though the pathogen is brand new, scientists have already discovered the two antibodies – called IgM and IgG – that are triggered by an infection. A test detects their unique signature.
But this method has important limits. Antibodies provide evidence – but these are just fingerprints left by the culprit. A person whose blood contains anti-coronavirus antibodies may still be sick or feel but be contagious.
It can take up to two weeks for a person’s immune system to develop antibodies to the coronavirus, so even if their blood does not show it, they could currently fight the infection.
To know for certain if a person is infected with a coronavirus, genetic tools must always be used to detect the presence of RNA in the virus – a more expensive and time-consuming process that is currently used in tests across the country.But because they are quicker and more affordable, blood tests will be an important tool for moving forward.
Other antibody tests are being developed by different teams around the world, including scientists from UC San Francisco and the San Francisco Vitalant Research Institute.
A test, produced by Research Triangle Park, NC, the company Cellex, is already being rolled out for use in select groups, such as residents of pandemic “hot spots” in New York, according to the journalism website medical STAT.
Medical technology company BD and clinical diagnostic company BioMedomics have an approved test for “monitoring” only – which means their test can be used for research, but the results cannot be returned to patients.
Los Angeles-based Scanwell Health has partnered with an online drug delivery company called Lemonaid to create a rapid home diagnostic test. The goal is to easily download the results via a mobile device to assess whether a patient has antibodies, indicating that they were or are currently infected. They are awaiting approval of their test in mid-May.
The approval of many more antibody tests is expected in the coming weeks as part of the US Food and Drug Administration’s “emergency use authorization,” which expedites the approval process for new test methods for COVID-19. This includes new, faster ways to test your nose and throat swabs, as well as blood tests for antibodies.
There are three different approaches that require delays ranging from half an hour to several days. The quickest test, called the rapid diagnostic test, takes only 10 to 30 minutes. It works similarly to a pregnancy test, showing readable lines that indicate positive or negative results.
Assuming long-term immunity occurs after a person is infected, antibodies could indicate that a person will not get sick if they meet the virus again.
This will allow people like Stanford Health Care workers to care for patients without fear of reinfection.
It could also calm the minds of those caring for sick family members, or allow them to return to essential jobs sooner, or leave quarantine safely once their symptoms have subsided. They are likely to be widely used in the future to assess future “collective immunity”, when so many people in a community have been exposed that the virus is no longer spreading.