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Coronavirus testing: What you need to know about antibody tests, antigens and serology – CNET

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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.

In the ongoing battle against the coronavirus pandemic, antibody tests are being touted as a crucial step that could herald the end of social distancing and hasten the reopening of the economy while we wait for a vaccine. Other phrases you might have heard include “antigen testing” and “serology,” each implying a swift return to normalcy. Add blood tests, nose swab tests, drive-through testing sites and at-home test kits to the conversation, it can be difficult to tease out which tests reveal what and what the results even mean.

Antibody tests have been stealing the spotlight lately because they might be able 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, it could mean you’re now immune to the coronavirus and it’s safe to be around others.

But there’s a lot of confusion and debate surrounding 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. 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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Lancet says concerned about validity of widely cited hydroxychloroquine study – National Post

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NEW YORK — The Lancet medical journal said on Tuesday “serious scientific questions” had been brought to its attention about the validity of the data behind a widely cited and already corrected study on the dangers of the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

The Lancet study published on May 22 found that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which U.S. President Donald Trump took and has urged others to use, was tied to an increased risk of death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Several clinical trials were put on hold after the study was published.

The article, called “Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis,” was an observational study – meaning it compiled real world data, rather than conducting a traditional clinical trial – and used data provided by healthcare data analytics firm Surgisphere.

The Lancet last week issued a correction to the study regarding the location of some patients following criticism of its methodology, but said the conclusions were not changed.

Also last week, nearly 150 doctors signed an open letter to the journal calling the article’s conclusions into question and asking to make public the peer review comments that led to it being published.

(Reporting by Michael Erman, Editing by Franklin Paul and Richard Chang)

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Doctor linked to Campbellton COVID-19 cluster says he made 'an error in judgment' – CBC.ca

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The doctor at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Campbellton, N.B., area says he’s not sure whether he picked up the coronavirus during a trip to Quebec or from a patient in his office.

Dr. Jean Robert Ngola made the comments to Radio-Canada’s program La Matinale on Tuesday morning — his first media interview since the emergence of 13 new cases in the northern New Brunswick health region starting May 21. Before then, it had been two weeks since the province had an active case.

Ngola has been suspended by the Vitalité Health Network, one of the province’s two regional health authorities, and the province has asked the RCMP to investigate to determine whether charges are warranted.

He said he decided to speak out because he’s become the target of racist verbal attacks daily and false reports to police, and he feels abandoned by public health officials.

Ngola, who is also known as Dr. Ngola Monzinga, has been working as a doctor in Campbellton since 2013. He previously practised in Europe and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola practises at the Campbellton Regional Hospital in northern New Brunswick. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

He said he did not self-isolate after returning from an overnight return trip to Quebec to pick up his four-year-old daughter. Her mother had to travel to Africa for her father’s funeral.

“What was I supposed to do?” he said in French. “Leave her there alone?”

Ngola said he drove straight there and back with no stops and had no contact with anyone. He said none of his family members had any COVID-19 symptoms at the time.

He returned to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital the next day.

“Maybe it was an error in judgment,” said Ngola, pointing out that workers, including nurses who live in Quebec, cross the border each day with no 14-day isolation period required.

“Who hasn’t made an error in judgment?” he said. “That’s why I have compassion towards everyone.”

What he told border officials unclear

On May 27, Premier Blaine Higgs announced a COVID-positive “medical professional” in their 50s had travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, was “not forthcoming” about the reasons for their trip upon returning to New Brunswick and “did not self-isolate as a result.”

The medical professional then returned to work at the Campbellton Regional Hospital for two weeks, Higgs had told reporters, describing it as “irresponsible.”

“If you ignore the rules, you put your family, your friends and your fellow New Brunswickers at risk,” Higgs said at the time.

Twelve of the province’s 13 cases have been linked to the travel-related case to date, according to Public Health officials.

The policy for any health-care workers who travel outside the province for any reason is to self-isolate for 14 days, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell has said. “It is mandatory.”

Compliance officers stop and question anyone entering New Brunswick as part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Ngola did not say during the morning interview what he told officials at the New Brunswick border about his reason for travel, or what they told him about requirements to self-isolate upon entering the province.

Nor did he indicate what, if any, followup he had from border officials.

When reached by phone later to clarify, Ngola said he was on the other line with his lawyer and hung up. Repeated calls since then have gone straight to voicemail.

‘How many people are unwitting carriers?’

Ngola said he received a call from a public health official on May 25 informing him one of his patients had tested positive.

He has about 2,000 patients at his clinic, about 1,500 of them active.

Ngola had seen the man May 19 for a prescription renewal or something that did not require any touching or a physical exam. He said the man had no COVID-19 symptoms and was wearing a mask.

Ngola said he immediately called the patient, who had cold-like symptoms and was doing OK.

He said he cancelled his shift that night at the hospital and got a test for himself and his daughter. Neither of them were showing symptoms, but they both tested positive.

Ngola said he still doesn’t know how they were infected.

“Who can say? … The virus is circulating everywhere. … How many people are unwitting carriers?”

Hate messages pour in, doctor says

He said one hour after he spoke with hospital and public health officials about his contacts to facilitate the investigation and protect the public, his name, face and address were being advertised all over the internet as “the bad doctor who brought the virus to kill people.”

Ngola said that’s not who he is.

“I only have compassion towards sick patients … the role of doctors is to care, to heal, to help … not to spread viruses.”

There are 13 active in cases in the province — all in the Campbellton health region, known as Zone 5, including a new confirmed case announced on Tuesday.

The person in their 80s is a resident at the Manoir de la Vallée, the long-term care facility in Atholville where four other residents in the Alzheimer’s unit and a staff member have also tested positive.

The staff member, a female personal attendant, had social contact with Ngola on May 20, according to the facility’s owner, Dr. Guy Tremblay.

Five people are now in hospital, one of whom is in intensive care.

Accusatory calls from U.S., Africa, Europe

Ngola said he’s been looking into the people making hateful posts, and most are from outside the region. He said he feels they are trying to incite violence against him because he is black.

He said he’s been getting accusatory calls from people in the United States, Africa and Europe, and people are also making false reports about him to local police. 

Ngola said he is not pleased with the way he’s being treated by public officials.

“I’m a patient. I have a right to confidentiality, to protection from the system.”

Health authority CEO appeals for calm

Gilles Lanteigne, the chief executive officer of the Vitalité Health Network, said he was aware of Ngola’s public statements, but could not comment on human resources matters, citing privacy.

“We understand that the situation is difficult for all parties involved and we sympathize with the people who are affected by this affair, either directly or indirectly,” he said in an emailed statement.

“I would like to appeal to everyone to remain calm in these difficult times.  It is more important than ever to show respect, tolerance and compassion for one another. This is how we will get through this crisis and come out of it stronger.”

Public Health officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ngola said he remains devoted to serving the community.

“I have a family. I have a right to live. Please, I’m not a criminal.”

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Family says 'back and forth' between N.S. and Ottawa over shooting probe 'unreal' – Medicine Hat News

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By Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press on June 1, 2020.

Heather O’Brien is shown in a handout photo from the GoFundMe page “Support for the O’Brien Family.” Heather O’Brien was among the victims of the mass killings in Nova Scotia. A Nova Scotia family is making a passionate appeal for the federal and Nova Scotia governments to end the “back and forth” over who leads a public inquiry into the province’s mass shooting. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-GoFundMe MANDATORY CREDIT

HALIFAX – A Nova Scotia family is making a passionate appeal for the federal and Nova Scotia governments to end the “back and forth” over who leads a public inquiry into the province’s mass shooting.

Darcy Dobson, the daughter of a licensed practical nurse who was among the 22 victims, says in the open letter that she, her father Andrew and her five siblings “formally request the start of a public inquiry into the mass shooting on April 18 and 19.”

Dobson’s mother, Heather O’Brien of Truro, N.S., was killed by the gunman on April 19 as she drove along a highway in Debert, N.S.

The letter notes that with few answers provided more than 40 days after the tragedy, families aren’t able to heal properly, and she adds “the amount of information being kept from us is deplorable.”

Premier Stephen McNeil has said he wants Ottawa to lead a public inquiry because the areas of key jurisdiction – such as the protocols followed by the RCMP – are federal.

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t committed his government to overseeing an inquiry, saying only it will “work with the government of Nova Scotia” to get answers.

The letter from Dobson is signed by the entire O’Brien family and says, “the back and forth about who’s responsible for an inquiry is unreal.”

It says mistakes were made at both the provincial and federal levels: “We need answers, we need answers to heal, we need answers so we can find a way to live in this new normal that we’ve been forced into.”

The letter adds that authorities should be trying to learn from one of the worst mass killings in Canadian history.

“What’s the hold up in the inquiry? Why hasn’t this happened yet? Where are we in the investigation? Was someone else involved? Why can’t we get any answers at all 40 days in?!” it asks.

“The fact that anyone of us has to ask these questions is all very concerning and only makes everyone feel, inadequate, unimportant and unsafe.

“Please for the people of our province, for the people of our country, for the people who have lost someone so dear to their hearts, find a way to let us start to heal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020.

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