Coronavirus Questions Answered: When Will Antibody Tests Be Available?

Antibody testing for COVID-19 is not yet accurate enough. [Motortion Films / Shutterstock]
Antibody testing for COVID-19 is not yet accurate enough, according to Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Raed Dweik. [Motortion Films / Shutterstock]

What are your questions about the coronavirus?

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Ed from Wooster wanted to know if there will be an antibody test available anytime soon.

There are two types of antibody tests, early response and late response. One is designed to diagnosis COVID-19 and one is designed to show who has already had COVID-19 and recovered from it.

Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Raed Dweik said the tests aren’t ready to be widely used. The diagnostic antibody test takes too long, he says, and the antibody test to show immunity isn’t fully accurate yet.

The new strain of the coronavirus is similar to other strains in the same family of viruses, one of which causes the common cold, Dweik said. So some people test positive when they haven't had COVID-19.

“You don’t want to have a lot of false positives, reassuring someone they’re immune when they’re not, and you don’t want a high rate of false negatives, telling you that you don’t have antibodies while you have them,” he said.

Dweik said down the line, once we have accurate antibody tests, we can use the information to have better data on the novel coronavirus.

He said we can also potentially use plasma from recovered people for the people who are sickest from COVID-19.

Dweik said there’s no timeline for when we might see useful antibody tests used by the Cleveland Clinic, and he said the priority should instead be on widespread rapid testing of new cases.

“The sooner we know whether they have COVID-19 or not, the sooner we’ll be able to determine the best course of treatment, and whether to put them with other patients who have COVID-19 or not,” Dweik said.

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