Coronavirus testing: What is an antibody test? Can you be immune to coronavirus?
To get tested for COVID-19, a swab of the nose or throat is taken as well as additional samples of sputum taken if you have a congested and continuous cough. There has, however, been an increased interest in antibody tests, which could be able to help prevent further spread of coronavirus.
What is an antibody test?
An antibody test, also called a serological test, is supposedly able to detect whether a person has already had coronavirus and since recovered.
The test would enable this by testing a person’s blood for a coronavirus antibody to see if they have recovered from the infection, and therefore, developed an immunity to it.
The current coronavirus tests can only see whether a patient is currently carrying the virus, as opposed to seeing if they have had it before.
Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock recently tweeted saying that the Government “is in negotiations for a brand-new type of antibody test – which can tell you if you’ve had the virus and are immune”, and said the Government intends on buying thousands of them.
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During the daily press conference on Tuesday held at Downing Street, Mr Hancock said the Government has now bought three and a half million antibody tests “that will allow people to see whether they have had the virus and are immune to it and then can get back to work.”
He added: “We expect people not to be able to catch it, except in very exceptional circumstances, for a second time.
“Our new testing facility in Milton Keynes opens today, and we, therefore, are on the ramp-up of the testing numbers.”
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Chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson says antibody tests are being trialled and explained it will “inevitably take time to consistently reach the NHS frontline”.
The new tests will enable NHS frontline staff to know if they have already contracted the virus, and get back to work quickly following self-isolation.
The tests were reportedly trialled by Singapore, who in February became one of the first countries to do so.
They were described as a “world-first” and were developed by scientists at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.
Can you be immune to coronavirus?
In the same way the flu can mutate, it is possible COVID-19 could do the same, meaning someone could contract it twice.
Dr Stephen Gluckman, an infectious diseases physician at Penn Medicine said it is likely getting the virus once results in immunity for most people, just like other coronaviruses.
He said: “Coronaviruses aren’t new, they’ve been around for a long, long time and many species – not just humans – get them.
“So we know a fair amount about coronaviruses in general. For the most part, the feeling is once you’ve had a specific coronavirus, you are immune.
“We don’t have enough data to say that with this coronavirus, but it is likely.”
However, we know too little about the virus to certainly say it’s impossible to contract twice.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains: “The immune response to COVID-19 is not yet understood.
“Patients with MERS-CoV infection are unlikely to be reinfected shortly after they recover, but it is not yet known whether similar immune protection will be observed for patients with COVID-19.”
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