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Coronavirus antibody testing a big deal? What to know about the promising serology tests – CNET



Antibody testing looks for evidence that a person has been infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, but not the virus itself.

James Martin/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

As some areas of the country begin to ease social restrictions put in place in response to the  coronavirus pandemic, antibody tests are being championed as a crucial step toward the end of social distancing and the reopening of the economy while we wait for a vaccine. And when there’s talk of antibody tests, you might also hear something about “antigen testing” and “serology,” each inspiring hope for a swift return to normalcy. Add blood tests, nose swab tests, drive-through testing sites and at-home test kits to the conversation, and suddenly which tests reveal what and what the results even mean are all a complete blur.

Antibody tests have garnered attention lately because they’re designed to show if you’ve ever had COVID-19, even if you never had any symptoms or knew you were infected. If it turns out you were, you might now be immune to the coronavirus and can possibly be around others without spreading the virus.

But the question of what antibody tests can and can’t do, if they’re even reliable enough to tell us anything useful, and where and how you can take the tests are causing much confusion and debate. Here’s what we know (and don’t know) so far.

One more note: This article is intended to be a resource to help you understand current coronavirus testing as presented by organizations such as the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It isn’t intended to serve as medical advice. If you’re seeking more information about coronavirus testing, here’s how to find a testing site near you (here’s another way for Apple Maps users). Here’s how to know if you qualify for a test and why there aren’t any coronavirus at-home test kits yet. This story is updated frequently as new information comes to light.

What is antibody testing for coronavirus?

An antibody test is a type of medical test that could help doctors determine if you have ever been infected with the coronavirus, regardless of whether or not you ever felt sick. This is important because many who contract the disease are asymptomatic

Antibody testing does not, however, reveal whether you are currently infected with the virus, nor does it indicate whether you have recovered from it if you did have it. The test only shows whether or not at some point you had the virus — nothing more, nothing less.

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Why is the antibody test such a big deal?

A positive antibody test result usually means you’re immune to the disease being tested for. Although researchers don’t know enough about COVID-19 yet to be able to say for sure whether you’ll be immune, the hope is that people who have recovered from the disease won’t be able to catch it again, or, for that matter, infect others. 

If that turns out to be the case, once a high enough percentage of the population has developed immunity to the coronavirus, a form of indirect protection called “herd immunity” might shield those who haven’t been exposed yet from getting the disease — and help usher in an end to the pandemic.

Can antibody tests tell if you’re immune to coronavirus?

With other diseases caused by coronaviruses — like SARS and MERS — a positive antibody test usually indicates some degree of immunity. However, the World Health Organization has warned that scientists don’t know enough yet about this new coronavirus — which is technically called SARS-CoV-2 — to be able to say one way or the other. They’re working on figuring it out.

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How does antibody testing work?

Antibody testing looks for proteins in the blood, called antibodies, which are left over after your body fights off a disease. When your immune system detects a new infection, your body starts producing antibodies, which it then trains to fight that specific invader. These antibodies figure out the invader’s weaknesses, then neutralize, destroy and ultimately remove it from your body.

After it’s gone, your body continues producing antibodies in case it ever comes back. That’s what the coronavirus antibody tests look for — the leftover antibodies your immune system produced to fight the coronavirus.

Where can I get a coronavirus antibody test? 

For now, you’ll have to start by talking to your doctor or another health care practitioner who is licensed to order lab tests. Guidelines vary by provider and by state, but generally you have to have been asymptomatic for one to two weeks (including the day of the test). 

Up until this week, antibody tests have not been widely available in the US, so health care professionals and first responders have been given priority. But starting April 27, you can get an FDA-authorized coronavirus antibody test at LabCorp facilities or doctors’ offices and health care facilities staffed with a LabCorp technician (there are thousands nationwide).

Right now, only the LabCorp test and three other antibody test kits have been authorized by the FDA under a rule that allows medical devices to be used during a public health emergency prior to FDA review. Under a similar emergency policy, the FDA is also allowing the use of test kits from nearly 100 other manufacturers, but some experts warn you shouldn’t trust such tests until they have been vetted more thoroughly. 

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What is an antigen?

An antigen is a substance that usually comes from your environment and makes you sick when it gets inside your body. Common antigens include bacteria and viruses. Antigens trigger your immune system to produce antibodies, which fight back.

Antigens can get into your system much the same way you bring the substances you need to survive into your body. You can inhale airborne antigens into your lungs when you breathe, for example. Or you can bring antigens into your mouth when you, say, pick up an infectious substance like the coronavirus off a surface with your hands, then touch your face.

Antigens can also get into your body through your ears, eyes and nose. Rarely, but occasionally, you can absorb them through your skin.

How is antigen testing different from antibody testing?

An antigen test looks to see if you currently have the disease by searching for genetic information unique to a particular virus or bacterium. It tells doctors whether you are currently infected or not, but not if you were infected in the past and have since recovered.

Conversely, an antibody test only shows whether or not you’ve had the disease in the past. It can take up to two weeks for antibodies to be detectable in your blood — usually long after the virus has been defeated and an antigen test would come back negative.

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What is serology or a serology test?

Serology refers to the study of blood serum, and the vast majority of serology testing is done to detect antibodies. Other body fluids, like saliva, can be tested too, but that’s because they contain trace elements of blood, which is what’s actually being tested.

Serology tests can also determine blood type when donating blood or receiving a transfusion. They can be used to measure the levels of pharmaceuticals present in the bloodstream, during a drug trial, for example. But most of the time, when experts use the phrase “serology” or “serology testing,” they’re talking about antibody tests.

Although increased antibody testing may help hasten the end of lockdown, it’s not the only thing that can speed the return to normalcy. Here’s a look at what needs to happen before shelter-in-place orders begin to be lifted in the US. If you or someone in your home contracts COVID-19, here are the steps you need to take to avoid spreading the virus further. And here’s what to do to stay safe when you have no choice but to venture out in public.

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City asking people to wear masks on buses, but not mandatory – GuelphToday



As the city prepares to allow more riders on Guelph Transit buses, it is asking riders to wear a non-medical mask or face covering.

They are not mandatory.

Free 30-minute Guelph Transit service will continue for the rest of June but the city says thta with more businesses reopening and more people heading back to work, Guelph Transit is preparing to resume fare collection and regular schedules later in the summer.

In a news release Friday morning, the city said the request is based advice from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.

“According to health officials, wearing a homemade face covering/non-medical mask is not a substitute for physical distancing and hand washing. Wearing a mask has not been proven to protect the person wearing it, but it can help protect others around you,” the release said.

“As the buses get busy again, physical distancing may not always be possible. We’re asking riders to wear a non-medical mask or face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” says Robin Gerus, general manager of Guelph Transit.

Guelph Transit is encouraging face coverings, not requiring them.

“It’s becoming more common to wear a mask on public transit in other cities, but it’s new for Guelph. Some riders may not be aware of or understand the latest guidelines from health officials. Some may not have resources to purchase or make a mask, or they may have a medical reason for not wearing one,” added Gerus. Everyone is welcome to use Guelph Transit, and we’re asking people to protect and respect each other as ridership increases.”

Since March, Guelph Transit made the following adjustments to slow the spread of COVID-19:

  • free 30-minute service allows passengers to avoid using the farebox and board from the rear door
  • plastic barrier between the driver and passengers
  • hand sanitizing stations and cleaning supplies for drivers
  • no more than 10 people per bus
  • blocked several seats to encourage physical distancing between passengers

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City and Guelph Transit encourage riders to continue following the latest advice from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health:

  • wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer
  • stay at least two metres away from people you don’t live with
  • when you can’t maintain physical distancing, wear a non-medical mask or face covering

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WHO resumes hydroxychloroquine trial on Covid-19 patients – ITIJ



On May 25, WHO suspended the trial of the drug, which is usually used to treat malaria patients, after a study published in medical journal The Lancet found that Covid-19 hospitalised patients treated with hydroxychloroquine had a higher risk of death, as well as an increased frequency of irregular heartbeats, than those who weren’t treated with it. 

However, WHO officials have since asserted that there is no evidence that the drug reduces the mortality in these patients, and the study has since been retracted over data concerns. 

“The executive group received this recommendation and endorsed the continuation of all arms of solidarity trial including hydroxychloroquine,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press conference 3 June, adding that WHO planned to continue to monitor the safety of the therapeutics being tested in trials involving over 3,500 patients spanning over 35 countries. 

“WHO is committed to accelerating the development of effective therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics as part of our commitment to serving the world with science, solutions and solidarity,” Ghebreyesus said. 

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'Truly sorry': Scientists pull panned Lancet study of Trump-touted drug – National Post



NEW YORK/LONDON — An influential study that found hydroxychloroquine increased the risk of death in COVID-19 patients has been withdrawn a week after it led to major trials being halted, adding to confusion about a malaria drug championed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Lancet medical journal pulled the study after three of its authors retracted it, citing concerns about the quality and veracity of data in it. The World Health Organization (WHO) will resume its hydroxychloroquine trials after pausing them in the wake of the study. Dozens of other trials have resumed or are in process.

The three authors said Surgisphere, the company that provided the data, would not transfer the dataset for an independent review and they “can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources.”

The fourth author of the study, Dr. Sapan Desai, chief executive of Surgisphere, declined to comment on the retraction.

The Lancet said it “takes issues of scientific integrity extremely seriously” adding: “There are many outstanding questions about Surgisphere and the data that were allegedly included in this study.”

Another study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that used Surgisphere data and shared the same lead author, Harvard Medical School Professor Mandeep Mehra, was retracted for the same reason.

The Lancet said reviews of Surgisphere’s research collaborations were urgently needed.

The race to understand and treat the new coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of research and peer-reviewed scientific journals are go-to sources of information for doctors, policymakers and lay people alike.

Chris Chambers, a professor of psychology and an expert at the UK Center for Open Science, said The Lancet and the NEJM – which he described as “ostensibly two of the world’s most prestigious medical journals” – should investigate how the studies got through peer review and editorial checks.

“The failure to resolve such basic concerns about the data” raises “serious questions about the standard of editing” and about the process of peer review, he said.

The Lancet did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The NEJM could not immediately be reached for comment.


The observational study published in The Lancet on May 22 said it looked at 96,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, some treated with the decades-old malaria drug. It claimed that those treated with hydroxychloroquine or the related chloroquine had higher risk of death and heart rhythm problems than patients who were not given the medicines.

“I did not do enough to ensure that the data source was appropriate for this use,” the study’s lead author, Professor Mehra, said in a statement. “For that, and for all the disruptions – both directly and indirectly – I am truly sorry.”

Many scientists voiced concern about the study, which had already been corrected last week because some location data was wrong. Nearly 150 doctors signed an open letter to The Lancet calling the article’s conclusions into question and asking to make public the peer review comments that preceded publication.

Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said the retraction decision was “correct” but still left unanswered the question about whether hydroxychloroquine is effective in COVID-19.

“It remains the case that the results from randomized trials are necessary to draw reliable conclusions,” he said. (Reporting by Michael Erman, Peter Henderson, Kate Kelland and Josephine Mason Editing by Leslie Adler, Tom Brown, Giles Elgood and Carmel Crimmins)

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