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May 15 2020

COVID-19 Test For Antibodies

Should We Do More Antibody Testing For Coronavirus?

COVID-19 Antibody Test
Updated: COVID-19 antibody testing by Abbott, which is offered by HealthClic in London, is now approved by Public Health England.
What is Antibody Testing for Coronavirus?

The serology antibody test is another way of testing for coronavirus infection. Despite PCR testing, which measures the presence of the active COVID-19 virus on the obtained swab samples (usually throat/nasal swab), these tests measure the antibodies in the blood present against coronavirus.

Most patients who recover from coronavirus have been found to produce IgG antibodies, but it is not yet known if an individual with a positive result showing IgG levels will be protected from to any level from future infection, or for how long protective effects or ‘immunity’ may last. Corporations looking to bring staff back to work therefore, may consider a testing strategy of repeat PCR testing rather than relying on ‘immunity’ of staff, due to presence of IgG antibodies from past COVID-19 infections.

IgM and IgG Antibodies

There are two types of antibodies that go up in response to an infection: IgM and IgG. It is not confirmed yet how long after exposure to coronavirus these antibodies will be produced, and for how long they may last. Some resources suggest that IgM antibodies go up 5-7 days post exposure and IgG after 14-21 days. Therefore, these tests are less favourable in the patients with active infection. During the incubation period and they are mainly used to check if you have had COVID-19 infection in the past; or within the last few weeks; complementary to the swab test. For example, the active virus detected by the PCR COVID-19 swab test will be present for a particular window only, therefore doing the antibody test later may confirm if there was a previous COVID-19 infection in the past. At HealthClic, we are providing the antibody test which is lab-based (by Abbott) and is approved by Public Health England.

It is also still under research what proportion of people develop antibody response to COVID-19 infection.

COVID-19 Antibody Testing in the UK

Currently, antibody tests are not carried out by NHS. However, some laboratories have started measuring the IgG antibodies to determine the previous infection and many tests are registered by MHRA, CE marked and EU approved. Abbott Laboratories have also developed a new COVID-19 antibody test available privately, for IgG only, due to the questionable nature of the IgM antibody production in the COVID-19 virus. Anecdotal evidence shows that IgM antibodies may last 4-6 weeks after the coronavirus infection (or positive swab result). Many health departments have varying recommendations on re-testing and self-isolation as a result, it is a new virus therefore we cannot be 100% sure. However, the safest advice seems to be to self-isolate for a minimum of 2 weeks after the first symptoms, and for some patients with a larger BMI to self-isolate for minimum 4 weeks in total, as they may remain infective for longer periods.

Should we do Antibody Testing?

In conclusion, to understand more about the length of presence of IgM and IgG antibodies, it may be helpful for patients with suspected/confirmed COVID-19 cases to be tested by PCR swab for the active virus, and followed up by coronavirus antibody testing. It is important to have the testing offered in conjunction with a consultation by a doctor to explain the implications of the result (and that the result does not necessarily mean you have protective immunity, and to always follow Public Health England guidelines – or the guidelines of your country’s relevant health department). This way we can be safe, but more testing will provide more data, helping us to understand the COVID-19 virus in more detail, while also providing information on length of immunity.

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