OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – East Alabama Medical Center is now testing for antibodies against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Clinical leaders from EAMC’s Laboratory department are explaining what these tests mean and how results will be used in the hospital’s ongoing fight against COVID-19.
Troy Thaxton, EAMC’s Chemistry department supervisor, explains certain precautions still must be taken because the test determines exposure, not immunity.
“There is limited knowledge at this time on re-infection once you have antibodies in your system,” Thaxton notes. “You may test positive for COVID-19 antibodies, but that does not mean you should be careless and stop taking precautions such as social distancing. A positive antibody test could mean you have had a past infection with a non-Novel (or common) Coronavirus strain, such as the common cold virus. If someone becomes re-infected with the virus, they could continue to spread it if they do not take the necessary precautions. This test is not an ‘all clear,’ says Thaxton, noting that it is unknown right now if you can become re-infected with the virus in the future.”
The antibody test is used to detect if you have been exposed to COVID-19. The test does not diagnose a current COVID-19 infection.
“When you are exposed to a foreign pathogen, your body’s response is to produce antibodies which are proteins that bind to the foreign pathogen (virus),” explains Kathy Storey, EAMC’s Lab director. “This binding helps to deactivate the pathogen and clear it from your system, so it does not attack other cells in your body. The COVID-19 antibody test helps to detect those antibodies. Antibody tests look for evidence in the bloodstream that you were exposed to COVID-19 in the past,” Storey says. “It will not diagnose a current infection.”
Many people in the community believe they have already had and recovered from COVID-19. The test could be a way of confirming or ruling out their suspicions.
“Yes, this antibody test will let you know if you have had COVID-19, regardless of whether it was in April or January or any other time. Some people were sick with flu-like symptoms associated with COVID-19 in late 2019 or early 2020 and believed they had COVID-19 because they tested negative for the flu,” said Storey.
The antibody test can be beneficial for health care workers who continue to monitor infection in our community. It can also help determine if you are a possible donor for convalescent plasma, a treatment used for extremely sick patients battling COVID-19.
“Testing for the IgG antibody may help your primary care physician determine if you have been infected with COVID-19,” Storey says. “This test does help determine immunity, but evidence on how long the immunity lasts is still unknown. Additionally, donated convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients is thought to potentially help patients who are fighting the disease. Once you have recovered (convalesced) from a given virus, those antibodies stick around for a certain period of time.”
EAMC started testing frontline employees on April 29 and is now testing the general public at the discretion of their physician. Storey says good candidates are those who tested positive for COVID-19 and have recovered. You are also a candidate for this antibody test if you have had signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in the past but were not tested. A physician order will be required for individuals who believe they are a candidate for this test. Talk to your primary care physician if you think you should be tested.
The test is a simple blood test. Patients should take the Lab order from their physician to either Auburn Diagnostic Imaging (ADI) or to Lab Outreach (bldg. 22 at the Medical Arts Center in Opelika). Results from the test are available with 36 hours and are available on the EAMC Patient Portal or by contacting your primary care physician. The Lab cannot give out patient results without a written order from the physician.
Antibody testing is covered by most insurance carriers, including Medicare. If a patient does not have insurance, a 45 percent discount off of the regular charge of $130 will be given, leaving a self-pay balance of $71.50.
Visit https://www.eamc.org/…/eamc-begins-covid-19-antibody-testing for more information on antibody testing.