A test that can determine if a patient had been infected and recovered from COVID-19 is being developed at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. The test will detect the presence of antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies are produced by a person's immune system, and are critical for control and clearance of the virus.
Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic COVID-19 and vaccine expert, explains how the public and research will benefit from this antibody, or serologic, test.
Journalists: Sound bites with Dr. Gregory Poland are in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy "Gregory Poland, M.D. / Vaccine Research Group / Mayo Clinic."
"It would be very useful, helpful, even reassuring to people to know, 'Have I been infected, and I am potentially protected now?' Imagine in the workplace. For us at Mayo Clinic, in fact I'm waiting to get the test myself after having had some symptoms, but it would be a great help to know if I had indeed been infected and now recovered from that and now able to take care of patients."
Dr. Poland says it's not yet known if the presence of antibodies specific to COVID-19 means a person will never be reinfected.
"We don't know the answer to that yet. What I can say is there are four seasonal human coronaviruses that circulate every fall, and immunity to those, for reasons we don't understand, only lasts months. With SARS-CoV-1, what we call SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), back in 2002, that immunity lasted between three to six years. So we don't know with this."
The antibody test is crucial to give researchers a better understanding of how widespread the virus is. It also would allow them to identify which personal characteristics and environmental factors appear to play a role in how severely the virus affects particular groups of people, or populations. For example, influenza is more likely to cause severe illness among the very young or very old; whereas, Zika virus is most dangerous for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant because it can cause severe birth defects.
"One other benefit of antibody testing is being able to identify candidates who could donate plasma in order to provide antibody that could be used in other people and help treat them," says Dr. Poland.