Why is Serology (or Antibody) Testing Important?

By Staff Reports

(Victor Valley)– COVID-19 testing has now been rolled out seven days a week at various locations throughout the county for anyone wanting to know if they are infected with the coronavirus. Concurrently, some testing events within the county are implementing serology testing (aka antibody testing) which has generated a lot of questions. Here are the basics on this potentially valuable epidemiological tool.

Serology testing is used to detect the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood serum or other tissues. It involves taking a blood sample, which here in the County requires a simple, painless finger prick.

Antibodies, which typically form in response to an infection, are specific proteins produced by the immune system to neutralize pathogens such as viruses. Detecting antibodies in a blood sample confirms an individual was previously infected and developed an immune response — whether or not they showed symptoms of the disease.

So it is important to recognize that a serology test is not effective for determining if someone is currently infected with the coronavirus, since it typically takes up to two weeks after someone becomes infected for their body to produce antibodies.

However, serology testing helps epidemiologists and other medical professionals better assess the extent of the coronavirus among different populations throughout the nation and the world — including San Bernardino County. The ability to detect infections in people who are otherwise asymptomatic (i.e. people who experienced none of the symptoms associated with COVID-19) is perhaps the greatest benefit of serology testing. It increases our understanding of the virus and helps evaluate potential opportunities and risks when dealing with it.

However, the serology test that is currently available is not designed to confirm whether someone has been infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Serology testing for coronavirus is not a panacea. While we can confirm that a person has contracted the virus and successfully fended it off (as evidenced by the presence of antibodies), we do not know how long that individual is actually immune to the virus afterward. It’s also possible that immunity is merely partial.

Bottom line: Since doctors don’t know how much protection a person has once he or she has produced the antibodies to combat COVID-19, a positive test showing the existing of antibodies does not deliver a “clean bill of health” to the individual.

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