Tennessee Department of Health releases Q&A for coronavirus antibody testing

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A doctor shows a negative quick coronavirus test in a tent set up at the entrance of a hospital in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Venezuela is going about testing its citizens unlike any other country: Mass deployment of a rapid blood antibody test from China that checks for proteins that develop a week or more after someone is infected, while using on a much smaller scale the gold-standard nasal swab exam that detects the virus from the onset. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

TENN. (WJHL) — According to the Tennessee Department of Health, antibody research is still ongoing and will give doctors a first estimate of the number of Tennesseans with COVID-19 antibodies.

Q:  How is a COVID-19 antibody test different than the nasal swab test I received at the health department?

A: An antibody test involves taking a blood sample to detect cells in the body that have previously been exposed to, and fought off, a virus. A nasal swab test only detects whether a patient currently has a viral infection.

Q:  It seems there are many antibody tests already available, doesn’t that mean the tests have been approved and proven to be effective?

A:  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved six COVID-19 antibody tests for clinical use, and most of these have not been widely distributed.  There are many antibody tests in the FDA’s pipeline and may ultimately receive approval.  However, most of the antibody tests ready for use have not been validated.

Q:  Isn’t it better to know whether or not I’ve had COVID-19 by getting an antibody test?

A:  The primary issue with these unproven antibody tests is they can give patients false-positive results by detecting other types of coronaviruses, usually the kind that cause the common cold. A false-positive result may lead to a conclusion that a patient has immunity to COVID-19, when what the test really shows is, at some point in time, the patient was exposed to another type of coronavirus and its antibodies are present, not the antibodies for COVID-19.

Q:  If I have antibodies in my blood, doesn’t it mean I’m immune to COVID-19?

A:  There is not enough data yet on COVID-19 antibody testing to prove having the antibodies will prevent a person from being re-infected with COVID-19. There are some indications most, maybe not all, people who have been infected with COVID-19 will develop antibodies in their blood that can be detected for a period of time. There isn’t enough data to confirm this is true, or if it happens to be true how long the immunity will last. 

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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