By Holly Giles
It is official; there is now a “highly specific” test for COVID-19. The test works by detecting antibody levels in the blood, specific to the COVID-19 virus.
Antibodies are produced in response to infection, so their presence is an accurate way of detecting if a patient has had the infection and if they have developed immunity from it.
This is important as some people who have been infected do not display any symptoms so can be carriers of the disease to others without being aware they have it themselves.
Previously we were only able to test people who currently had the virus, meaning someone who has recovered would show a negative result. This additional test allows us to identify previous infections and points towards immunity markers. It is also likely to provide more accurate figures of infection throughout the pandemic, helping the government prepare for any future outbreaks or recurrences.
Professor Newton from the UK Coronavirus Testing Programme explained the importance of this advancement; “This is a very positive development because such a highly specific antibody test is a very reliable marker of pat infection. This in turn may indicate some immunity to future infection although the extent to which the presence of antibodies indicates immunity remains unclear.”
This was added to by the Department of Health and Social Care in the statement; “Antibody testing is an important part of our strategy to counter the spread of COVID-19 and to help us understand who has had the disease. In addition to the recent huge expansion of the UK’s swab-based coronavirus testing capacity, we are exploring the use of antibody testing across the NHS and ultimately the wider public. We are delighted that devices are progressing through validation and are actively working on our plans for rolling out antibody testing and will make announcements in due course.”
It is still not clear how these tests will be rolled out across the UK, or if the presence of antibodies does in fact mean reinfection is prevented, but this test is a huge advancement in the fight against COVID-19. It is a strong reminder that this is a battle that can be won.