Home News COVID-19 Situation Experts: Antibody testing can add to COVID-19 knowledge

Experts: Antibody testing can add to COVID-19 knowledge

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Testing for COVID-19 antibodies is available in Roswell, but medical professionals say it won’t be of much benefit to individuals. What it will do, however, is contribute to a greater understanding of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes.

Unlike the COVID-19 tests available for free through the New Mexico Department of Health, the antibody test does not tell if a person is currently infected with the coronavirus.

Instead, it reveals if the person has been exposed to the virus at some point in time, said David Grenache, chief scientific officer of TriCore Reference Laboratories.

TriCore is the lab conducting most, if not all, of the antibody tests in New Mexico.

“Antibodies are proteins that are made by our immune system in response to an infection, and they help keep us from getting infected again, in some cases,” Grenache said in a phone interview.

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“What an antibody test tells you is that you’ve had an infection in the past, or you’ve had vaccinations for an infectious disease. But they can’t tell you if you actually have the disease,” he said.

Some antibodies, such as those for mumps or measles, give lifelong immunity, he said. Others, like influenza, are short term.

“What we don’t know yet about the antibodies to the novel coronavirus is if they even prevent you from getting reinfected, that is, it confers some sort of immunity,” he said.

Testing large populations to see who has the antibodies and who doesn’t gives a better picture of how widespread the virus is.

“We really don’t have a good handle on who has been infected. So antibody testing from a public health perspective can be informative to identify what is the actual rate in the community. So that’s valuable, but to the individual, the results are not very useful at all,” Grenache said.

He said he wouldn’t recommend antibody testing for the general public for that reason.

“Really what you’re doing is just satisfying a curiosity and that’s not a good reason to do medical testing,” he said.

Grenache said he would recommend the antibody test in two circumstances.

The first is for those who had COVID-19 but had a negative swab test. Often by the time symptoms of the disease appear, he said, the virus has moved from the sinuses into the lungs and a nasal swab cannot detect it. The antibody test would confirm the diagnosis.

He would also recommend antibody testing to anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 and wants to donate blood plasma — known as convalescent plasma — that can be given to those who are being treated for the disease.

“The idea is that people who have recovered have antibodies to the virus in their blood, and if you give their blood to someone else who’s very sick, maybe those antibodies provide some sort of therapeutic effect,” he said.

Roswell Family Care, 1107 N. Main St., is one clinic offering antibody testing, and CEO Dean Schear along with Certified Nurse Practitioner David Aguilar, had a differing opinion on who should get tested.

“I encourage people to get tested if they think they had it, or definitely if they’ve been exposed. That kind of data will let us know what kind of possible immunity we’re going to have,” Aguilar said.

“It’s good to know if you’ve had an exposure. A lot of people have been exposed that didn’t know about it,” Schear said.

“That also helps get more accurate data to the state and federal government,” he said.

Roswell Medical Clinic, 111 W. Hobbs St., has posted on its Facebook page that it offers antibody testing but did not respond to requests for an interview.

Aguilar and Schear said they caution their patients who get the antibody testing that a positive result doesn’t mean immunity and they should still practice safety precautions like social distancing and avoiding people with a confirmed exposure.

The clinic began offering antibody tests because patients and a couple of local employers requested it, Schear said.

There are no guidelines to limit who can be tested for antibodies, but, also unlike the active virus test, it is not free.

Roswell Family Care charges $10 for the blood draw, which can be billed to insurance. TriCore will charge separately for the test itself, about $47, Schear said.

He and Aguilar said they believe more data will show the risk of getting infected with COVID-19 is no greater than the flu.

“It looks like right now coronavirus is going to be less risky for anybody under 60. So if you’re under 60, definitely under 50 and don’t have complicating issues, coronavirus is probably going to be less risky than the flu, based on the data they’ve done so far,” Aguilar said.

“That’s what’s important about our antibody testing. We need people to come in for that role. And the beauty behind ours is it’s randomized. We’re not testing a certain population,” Schear said.

Schear, Aguilar and Grenache all agreed determining if the antibodies offer immunity will take time.

“We’re not sure how long it stays in the system,” Schear said. “That will come with the people we know who are affected and probably test six months from now and see if they still have the antibodies.”

Grenache said based on other viral respiratory diseases such as the flu, researches expect there will be at least short-term immunity with COVID-19, and some new research indicates that.

“That’s going to require targeted studies of people who have had coronavirus, who have recovered from COVID-19 and observing them to see if they do get reinfected, as well as population studies and observations of what’s happening in the community,” he said.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

 

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