The test could be used to find out the level of spread of the disease and how long people remain immune after recovering.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new test to detect antibodies to the coronavirus. It is the first to be held in the United States and could serve, if successful, to be applied in other parts of the world.
This was reported by the New York Times, which also said that the tests currently available are designed to find viral gene fragments that indicate an ongoing infection. To obtain this information, doctors swab the nose and throat and amplify any genetic material from the virus found there.
The new test, by contrast, looks for antibodies present in the blood. How? In the same way that a blood type test is performed or the blood glucose level is measured: with a small prick in the finger. This information tells doctors if a patient has been exposed to the virus and may have some immunity.
According to what was published by the New York newspaper, that is important for an essential aspect. People with immunity could leave their homes more safely and could return to their daily activities, which little by little would contribute to returning to the “normal” of society. That is why this information could be particularly important for health professionals but also for other individuals.
Furthermore, antibody tests would eventually give scientists a clearer idea of how widespread the infection is in the population, and help researchers more accurately calculate the death rate. That is, to know how many asymptomatic patients there are currently, how many actually develop the disease and, consequently, how many are infected, beyond the known number of diagnosed – and that currently exceeds one million people worldwide.
It is important to note that antibody tests are already used in China, Singapore, and some other countries. In addition, the English healthcare system has purchased millions of antibody tests and hopes they will be available for home use in the UK.
The new test, performed by a company known as Cellex, looks for two types of antibodies: immunoglobulin M, produced by the body a few days after an infection; and immunoglobulin G, later produced but created specifically to neutralize a particular virus.
The test being tested in the United States gives results in approximately 15 minutes. However, it is important to note that just having antibodies does not guarantee immunity against the coronavirus.
The new test only looks for the presence of the antibodies and offers a qualitative answer yes or no. What does this mean? That does not say how well the antibodies are working, according to what the cited article indicates.
Although the new test is approved for diagnosis, it should be mentioned that antibody tests can be negative in the first days of an infection. There is currently new evidence suggesting that people are most contagious two to three days before they have symptoms. This means that this new analysis would probably be more useful in people in the clinic who are symptomatic, and not so much for asymptomatic or presymptomatic people.
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