As testing for COVID-19 expands across Florida and the country, we’re hearing more about antibody testing.
What’s that mean? Well here’s a little background on this kind of testing. New testing is needed because thousands of people just in Florida may have caught this coronavirus and not even known it because many don’t show the usual (or any) symptoms: fever, cough and shortness of breath. The antibody test is a rapid blood test that may tell you if you’ve ever been infected. It looks for certain antibodies, what your body makes when fighting an infection like COVID-19. Those antibodies help develop immunity to a virus.
The antibody test, which requires some blood from a simple finger prick, isn’t checking for the virus itself. Instead, it looks to see whether your immune system — your body’s defense against illness — has responded to the infection. Current antibody tests can’t tell you if you’re immune to COVID-19 — yet — because we don’t know how long these antibodies might protect you against the coronavirus. Basically, it’s complicated.
Antibody tests can show how common COVID-19 is. And that is the link to getting life back to normal quicker — the hope is that people with antibodies to COVID-19 can safely get back to work, and normal life, quicker.
These tests may also help with an experimental treatment for COVID-19 called convalescent plasma. People who have recovered from COVID-19 are donating plasma that contains the needy antibodies used by people currently fighting the virus to recover faster and without getting as sick.
Here’s the problem for right now: These tests aren’t widely available yet or will be home-based tests. The CDC, along with other private and public labs, is working to develop more tests for the public. Right now, the FDA has given emergency authorization to only one antibody test.
But you can ask your doctor or local hospital if there’s a way you can get your antibodies checked. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) wants to study blood from 10,000 healthy people who haven’t tested positive for COVID-19. They want to see how many people might have had the virus without knowing it. If you want to take part, email the NIH at email@example.com.