Every time the question of catching it again has been raised since then, I have said with air and humor, “Oh, I got it, and I have antibodies to prove it. At least I did it until Friday, when my third antibody test came back negative.
I was shocked. While it’s not clear whether the antibodies actually offer immunity, I had treated my previous positive AB tests as a shield that I could wave and shout, “I went. It is done. I’m fine. ” Right or wrong. Now my precious protection was gone.
I called the test center. “Surely a mistake,” I said elegantly. “I have previous tests to prove it. The center, having never seen a retest case losing antibodies before, returned to the lab to see what was happening.
The lab replied, “Oh no, Mr. Quest has antibodies, but not enough to fit on the scale. I had registered as 1 on the “scale,” and only those above 1.4 are considered to have enough antibodies to be classified as positive.
I needed to know more, so I immediately got into a Google search vortex and then struggled through a scientific article on the Abbott SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibody test. IgG refers to the class G immunoglobulin antibodies in your blood, which when washed, mixed, and tumble dried with other chemicals (as well as other things that I didn’t understand), produce an antibody index, where the is 1.4. And I had been cut.
Over the past five months, my fading antibodies have become insignificant, and with them my bravado claims protection. Now it looked like I was back to square one: vulnerable to Covid again.
When I spoke to my infectious disease doctor in New York City, he was not at all surprised. He referred to the latest studies showing that antibodies actually weaken and decrease in 90 days – no one has had a chance to do much research beyond that yet.
Video: It’s Not Just Death – Here’s Why You Don’t Want Covid-19 (CNN)
Click to enlarge
But, as my doctor continued, this is only half of the body’s defensive mechanism. T cells, an important part of our immune system’s attack power, have viral memory.
They will remain at rest until (or if) the body comes into contact with Covid-19 again, at which point my immune system will kick in and start producing antibodies again.
It was, my doctor said, “highly, highly unlikely that you will have Covid again this year… medically unlikely. I was then quickly warned that none of this should cause me to give up social distancing, hand washing, and other anti-virus measures.
Resilience, but no immunity?
I am telling this all because it is another example of our collective tortuous journey with this disease. The roundabout progression of the pandemic creates fear, then hope, then fear again, seemingly endless.
I have seen many Covid scavengers quietly scroll through their antibody status as if it were a shield for life. Still, I would bet a lot of money that if they took another test, they would also find that their armor has cracked or has holes in it.
I only discovered the curious case of my declining antibodies because I am frequently tested due to my travel to work.
I like to think that common sense tells me I can’t catch Covid any longer in the short term – otherwise we would have heard of many more cases of re-infection. So far there have only been a few outliers and they tend to have unique circumstances. However, common sense must now be carried away by this stingy but voguish cliché: “the abundance of caution”. I’ll only take common sense so far.
All this teaches me that what was done yesterday does not mean that it is the same today. Experts say we know a lot more about Covid now than six months ago. This is true at the helicopter level, where governments make national policies, and also at the grassroots, as I go through my life.
My new reality is that I no longer have the antibodies that I was once so proud of. I can have T cell memory based resilience and I am unlikely to get infected again, but I can! I’m just wondering what other “certainty” is going to crumble into dust next.
Until I find out, I’ll follow the rules.