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There’s been a lot in the news about antibody testing and treatment being part of the answer to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
But what are these tests and treatments? How do they work and who can get them?
First, antibodies are a type of protein the immune system produces to protect the body against invaders, such as viruses in general and COVID-19 in particular.
Antibody testing would look for certain antibodies to see if a person recently was infected or may possibly be immune to the virus that causes COVID-19, and treatments using antibodies would transfer these antibodies from a person who has recovered from COVID-19 into the body of a person who currently is fighting it – as in the case of convalescent plasma treatments.
Both of these are available in Illinois.
Family First Medical Group and Women's Healthcare of Illinois in Mokena and Evergreen Park currently are offering antibody tests, according to its website.
Appointments are made through the website at www.yourffmg.com.
AMITA Health and its partner, Alverno Laboratories in Hammond, Indiana, plan to offer antibody tests for COVID-19 to AMITA Health patients and members of the community.
Dr. Janis Atkinson, vice president of medical affairs for Alverno Laboratories at AMITA Health and medical director of the laboratory at AMITA Health Saint Francis Hospital Evanston, said AMITA Health hopes to offer antibody testing as early as next week and she anticipates these types of tests being available nationwide.
"Up until now, we have been testing patients to find out who is sick with COVID-19 by looking for the virus itself in patients' secretions. Now we will have a test to identify who has recovered and may be immune to COVID-19," Atkinson said.
Atkinson said these tests may not be perfect but it's the best way to investigate whether a patient may be immune. She said it's not known how effective antibodies are or how long immunity may last.
She said she thinks most patients who are sick with COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms and so were never tested for the virus.
"This is just one more piece of our arsenal that we are able to offer our patients through our partnership with Alverno Laboratories," Atkinson said.
Abbott Laboratories, based in Lake Bluff, announced Wednesday that it launched its third COVID-19 test, a lab-based serology blood test for the detection of the antibody IgG, which identifies if a person has had the coronavirus, according to an Abbott news release.
"Antibody testing is an important next step to tell if someone has been previously infected. It will provide more understanding of the virus, including how long antibodies stay in the body and if they provide immunity. This type of knowledge could help support the development of treatments and vaccines," Abbott officials said in the release.
Abbott's IgG antibody test will initially be available on its Architect laboratory instruments.
Abbott spokeswoman Aly Morici said the first shipment of these tests will go to "leading health systems in the U.S."
"These are customers who already have Architect systems. I can’t provide state specific details at this time," Morici said.
How antibody testing works
The website for Premier Biotech, a manufacturer of antibody testing – also called serology testing – explained the three different antibodies scientists examine in regards to COVID-19 and how that differs from actually testing to see whether a person currently has the virus.
Polymerase Chain Reaction testing is a laboratory test used to diagnose COVID-19; the actual test involves a nasopharangeal swab, according to the website.
Test results can take four to five days.
Antibody testing looks for two particular antibodies: IgM, which peaks at the fifth day of the illness, and IgG, which peaks between the 14th and the 21st day.
So if a person has signs of IgM, he or she still may be fighting the virus and possibly be contagious. If a person has signs of IgG, that may indicate the person is recovering and no longer is contagious.
Both antibodies may appear, too, which can mean a person still is contagious but moving into recovery.
The test is simple – a finger prick – and results are available in 10 minutes, according to the website.
However, the FDA has not yet approved any of these antibody tests.
And the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in a news release that research has not yet confirmed whether the presence of these antibodies means a person is immune to COVID-19, although that may be likely.
In a news release from the NIAID, director Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “These crucial data will help us measure the impact of our public health efforts now and guide our COVID-19 response moving forward.”
For information on this study, visit www.ClinicalTrials.gov using identifier NCT04334954.
Convalescent plasma treatments
On the other hand, convalescent plasma treatments are approved by the FDA.
AMITA Health now will be able to request convalescent plasma, which contains antibodies that can attack coronavirus and help patients recover more quickly, through the National Convalescent Plasma Expanded Access Program, according to a news release from AMITA Health.
Critical-care physicians, pulmonologists and infectious disease specialists associated with AMITA Health may request convalescent plasma for their hospitalized, COVID-19 positive patients, according to the release.
The program is coordinated by the Mayo Clinic and the blood-related treatment could offer hope to help thousands of patients struggling with coronavirus, according to the release.
The FDA has set criteria for donating. To donate, people must:
• Be eligible to donate blood
• Have a prior diagnosis of COVID-19 documented by a laboratory test and meet other donor criteria
• Have fully recovered from COVID-19 for at least two weeks
• Have complete resolution of symptoms for at least 28 days before donating or alternatively have no symptoms for at least 14 days prior to donation
• Have a negative lab test for active COVID-19
Because the procedure for isolating plasma already is in place, moving into testing was able to happen quickly, said Julie Kim, president of Takeda, a company that creates plasma- derived therapies, in a March 25 Herald-News story.
Locally, AMITA Health has partnered with Versiti blood centers to collect and deliver convalescent plasma.
Potential donors should call 1-866-702-HOPE or visit versiti.org/covid19plasma.