Switzerland's Roche joins race to make coronavirus antibody tests

Switzerland's Roche joins race to make coronavirus antibody tests

Also called immunity testing or serological testing, antibody testing tells you if you had been infected in the past by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (also referred to as SARS CoV-2).

For some viral diseases such as measles, overcoming the sickness confers immunity for life.

Unlike a test created to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection, serological tests can help identify individuals who have developed an immune response to the virus by detecting the presence of antibodies in the blood - if antibodies are present, that indicates that the person has been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies against it, which may mean that person has at least some immunity to the coronavirus.

At least that's the theory. In reality, the new coronavirus has thrown up one surprise after one other, to the point where virologists and epidemiologists are positive of very little.

Francois Balloux director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, told AFP that in terms of the SARS affected patients, between 2002 and 2003, they remained protected for nearly three years, on average.

"We are now collaborating with public health bodies to validate the new antibody test and our aim is to commence a phased rollout across the United Kingdom from mid-May".

Other tests, like those performed with nasal swabs or saliva, test for the virus' genetic material, which does not persist long after recovery, as antibodies do.

Family First Medical Group and Women's Healthcare of IL in Mokena and Evergreen Park now are offering antibody tests, according to its website.

"Antibody testing is an important next step to tell if someone has been previously infected". In this case, it should be noted that, while it is not impossible that these people became infected a second time, Balloux argued that the virus never completely disappeared in the first place and remains in the body as dormant and asymptomatic, like herpes.

In a news release from the NIAID, director Dr. Anthony Fauci said, "These crucial data will help us measure the impact of our public health efforts now and guide our COVID-19 response moving forward".

In terms of another study, conducted in Shanghai that included 175 recovered patients, the results showed different concentrations of protective antibodies, say 10 to 15 days after the onset of symptoms. We're still learning things every day about the virus and about how people respond to that virus.

Federal guidance regarding the tests is confusing, leading to some providers administering the tests who may not be authorized to do so, or misusing the tests to diagnose the coronavirus.

At this time, we don't know whether the antibodies being detected by these tests are neutralizing antibodies - meaning the type that can stop the virus from continuing to spread throughout the body - so it's unclear whether a positive antibody test would indicate that the person is immune to the virus. Such an approach has helped the United Kingdom and Finland, while some experts in Germany have shared the idea of an "immunity passport" that would allow people to go back to work.

The idea of immunity passports or certificates also raises ethical questions, researchers say. Thus, it will be possible to find out the real number of people who got through the virus.

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