Antibody tests could be the next step in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, testing for the novel coronavirus includes swabbing the nasal passage and waiting on results, explained Dr. Bridget Reidy, a family physician practicing on the Saanich Peninsula. These tests prove if a person currently has the virus.
An antibody test, however, would involve testing a person’s blood to find out if they’re recovering from or have already recovered from the virus, Reidy said.
“Antibodies are like specific weapons against a specific disease,” she explained.
On March 26, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explained that B.C. is “absolutely looking for an antibody test.” She added that she’s aware of several experimental tests in other parts of the world but couldn’t say when the tests might arrive in B.C.
Blood tests for COVID-19 could, however, begin soon in the United Kingdom (UK). On March 24, UK health secretary Matt Hancock announced that the country had ordered 3.5 million antibody tests which will indicate who is now immune to COVID-19. This, he explained, would allow people to go back to work because experts don’t believe someone can catch the virus a second time.
The following day, during the country’s daily COVID-19 update, Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, explained that antibody testing could be introduced soon but that the technology is still being evaluated.
He added that using the tests without confirming their accuracy could lead to incorrect results which would be dangerous. However, Whitty said if the tests work, they would allow frontline health care workers to confirm that they’re protected and can go back to work.
Reidy pointed out that because coronaviruses don’t evolve quickly like influenzas, a person who tests positive for antibodies would likely be “protected for the time being” but that they would require follow-ups as the COVID-19 coronavirus is new.
Reidy added that aside from indicating if a person is protected from COVID-19, antibody testing would also provide more accurate data on the number of people affected by the virus as current data may not include those who had mild or no symptoms.
While the antibody test’s efficacy has yet to be proven, Reidy expects it will arrive in Canada shortly after it’s been approved.
For now, she recommends that everyone act like they have the virus and also as if they don’t but everyone else does – meaning stay away from others to avoid spreading or catching COVID-19.