Researchers and scientists have been working around the clock to develop tests that detect antibodies against the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in blood samples. Slowly but surely, antibody test are being administered to thousands of people across the country to help determine who has them and who doesn’t. Experts hope that these tests will give them a better understanding of how widespread the virus is.
What Is An Antibody Test?
Also referred to as a serology test, an antibody test looks for antibodies in the blood. When the body encounters an infection or virus, like SARS-CoV-2, it makes antibodies to develop immunity to the virus. In reality, the antibody test is not checking for the virus itself; rather, it checks your immune system to see whether or not it responded to the infection. Antibody tests are not the same as diagnostic tests, which are nasal and throat swabs that test for infection.
How Do Antibody Tests Work?
The doctor will prick your finger or obtain blood somehow in order to test for antibodies. When it comes to testing for SARS-CoV-2, doctors test for two types of antibodies, including:
- IgM antibodies: these develop early in the infection
- IgG antibodies: these typically show up after you recover
It can take the body up to four weeks to develop IgM antibodies in some instances, and scientists are still uncertain of how long IgM antibodies develop in people who contract SARS-CoV-2. More tests need to be done to determine this.
Here’s The Problem With Current Coronavirus Antibody Tests:
Because the SARS-CoV-2 virus still has a lot of unknown factors, scientists are unaware if developing antibodies to it means that you are in the clear. More research needs to be done about what immune responses are needed to protect someone from coronavirus. Unfortunately, antibodies alone cannot inform researchers of whether or not someone is protected from reinfection. Additionally, people who have antibodies could still be infectious and spreading the virus unknowingly.
These Antibody Tests Aren’t Perfect:
Don’t get too excited about antibody tests just yet, because they aren’t perfect. Some people can have sloppy immune systems, to put it bluntly. All this means is that an antibody test may not pick up antibodies, or it may confuse them with antibodies for the common cold, which is also a type of coronavirus. Also, people with autoimmune diseases develop tons of antibodies that can bind or stick to anything, leading to false readings on coronavirus antibody tests.
There Is Some Good News:
A large team of Stanford Medicine scientists recently developed a new type of antibody test for the coronavirus. It differs from regular antibody blood tests because this test looks for antibodies to the virus in plasma, which is the liquid in blood. This Stanford test takes two to three days to see the results and Stanford Health Care is currently able to test 500 samples per day. Researchers aim to scale up this number as soon as possible. The Stanford test aims to measure the antibody levels in asymptomatic infections, or infections that caused mild symptoms. The reason this data is pertinent is because it will determine how common mild infections are in the general population.
In closing, it is difficult to understand the immune response to SARS-CoV-2. By administering antibody tests on a large scale, however, the hope is that researchers will have a better idea of how individuals can return to normal activity in society.