We have all heard about antibody testing in regards to COVID-19, but how do antibody tests really work? Antibody testing shows if a person has developed antibodies in their blood against a disease. Antibodies are large proteins that attach to bacteria and viruses. They are part of our immune response and help fight off the infection. There are many different antibodies that our bodies produce to help fight off viruses and bacteria. The most common ones that are tested for are IgG and IgM. These are the most common antibodies in our bodies.
However, in the case of COVID-19, we are unsure that the presence of these antibodies means that a person is immune to the disease. It is possible that if a person tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies that they have had the virus and fought it successfully and now they are immune to the virus. It is also possible that the body has produced the antibodies to fight off the disease, but that the person is not necessarily immune to contracting the disease again.
There are some problems with antibody testing. It is not one hundred percent accurate. Accuracy of antibody testing can be described in terms of specificity and sensitivity. Specificity is how good a test is on avoiding false positive results. False positive results are when a patient tests positive for the antibodies and think that they are immune to a specific disease, but in reality, they are not immune. There can also be false negative results where a patient tests negative for the antibodies, but in reality, they are really immune to the disease. A good antibody test will have a specificity and sensitivity of at least 90 percent. Right now, manufacturers of antibody tests for COVID-19 are working to develop tests with high specificity and sensitivity percentages.
We are hoping that an accurate antibody test will be available soon and easily accessible to patients. Antibody tests can be beneficial in trying to determine where there have been outbreaks of the virus and assist in determining when and where groups of people can start leading normal lives again. Antibody testing can also be helpful for people when deciding if they can return to work and see family and friends again after a probable COVID-19 illness.
Once we locate a test that we can trust, we will be updating all of our members of their options. The state may also determine and provide this testing moving forward.