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Read our message to patients about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

What You Need To Know About The Coronavirus Antibody Test

May 19, 2020

Health officials say a coronavirus antibody test revealed COVID-19 has been in Ohio since January. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia or death. 

But studies show that nearly everyone who recovers from COVID-19 makes coronavirus antibodies. Antibodies are blood proteins produced by the immune system to fight foreign invaders like viruses and may help to ward off future attacks by those same invaders.

So let’s take a closer look at the coronavirus antibody test and what we can learn from the results.

How Do You Develop Antibodies?

The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the formation of antibodies as a partnership with B-cells in your body. 

An antibody is also called immunoglobulin. It’s a protective protein produced by your immune system in response to the presence of a foreign substance, called an antigen. Antibodies recognize and latch onto antigens in order to remove them from your body. A wide range of substances is regarded by the body as antigens, including disease-causing organisms and toxic materials such as insect venom.

Antibodies are produced by specialized white blood cells called B cells. B cells and antibodies work together to provide one of the most important functions of immunity. They recognize an invading antigen and produce a tremendous number of protective proteins that scour your body to remove all traces of that antigen.

The Role of Antigens & Antibodies in Vaccinations

Vaccines contain antigens that stimulate the B cells of your immune system. They get your B cells to respond by producing plasma cells which secrete disease-specific antibodies. And some of the B cells become memory B cells, which will recognize future exposure to the disease.

This is how you develop an immune response and essentially become immune to the virus. But researchers with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention warn that when it comes to coronavirus, it’s still unclear if the antibodies that are produced will protect you from getting infected again. This means that researchers still aren’t sure if the antibodies make you immune to the virus. 

Why Perform Coronavirus Antibody Tests?

According to the CDC, antibody blood tests, also called antibody tests, check your blood by looking for antibodies, which show if you had a previous infection with the virus. 

Coronavirus antibody testing could show how many people had COVID-19 without developing symptoms — potentially giving health officials and doctors a much better understanding of the virus’s spread.

Antibody testing is also faster. Researchers prepare a plate with part of the virus called a protein. The blood is dropped on the plate, to see if antibodies fight the virus on the plate. Swab testing, which can take eight hours or more, requires time for health professionals to produce enough of the virus’s genetic material to get a result.

Who’s Getting The Coronavirus Antibody Test?

It’s important to understand that COVID-19 antibodies won’t be detected if you have an active infection. Timing is critical. Depending on when someone was infected and the timing of the test, the test may not find antibodies in someone with a current COVID-19 infection.

As Ohio reopens, many office employees and restaurant workers in Ohio are being tested for antibodies. The goal is to not only provide information to businesses to help them reopen and to provide some reassurance to customers.    

Keep this in mind that it typically takes your body about 4 weeks to develop antibodies. But scientists aren’t sure how long it’ll take for this to happen with COVID-19.  And current antibody tests can’t tell you if you’re immune to COVID-19. That's because we don't know how long these antibodies might protect you against the coronavirus.

How To Get A Coronavirus Antibody Test

You should begin by checking with your healthcare provider to see if they’re offering tests to detect antibodies. 

The CDC is evaluating the performance of commercially manufactured antibody tests in collaboration with other government agencies. The Food and Drug Administration has authorized emergency use of several antibody tests.

If you think you are showing signs or symptoms of coronavirus, call your doctor immediately. And if you’re unsure about going into the office to see your doctor about something else that may be bothering you, North Ohio Heart and Ohio Medical Group are now offering telehealth appointments. You can visit a virtual doctor from the comfort of your own home.

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