NHRMC Epidemiologist: Antibody tests great for research, vaccine development, less so for personal decision making

NHRMC Epidemiologist: Antibody tests great for research, vaccine development, less so for personal decision making
(Source: (Photo: Amanda Rossmann, The Enquirer/Amanda Rossmann))

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - As the novel coronavirus pandemic has progressed, there has been an increased interest in the practice of antibody testing.

The Food and Drug Administration had originally allowed a wide array of antibody tests to flood the market, but has since pulled back due to some tests being inaccurate or not working at all.

Dr. Paul Kamitsuka, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert from New Hanover Regional Medical Center, said the reason those tests are having issues is because they haven’t been refined enough to always accurately identify COVID-19 antibodies.

“The problem with antibody testing is that the tests that are available so far, have not really been fully validated. The issue is specificity meaning, does the test cross react with other coronaviruses so that a positive test doesn’t necessarily mean that a person actually had covert infection?” he said.

There are multiple coronaviruses in circulation in addition to COVID-19, some that only cause the common cold, an tests that are not able to pick up the detailed information from antibodies may incorrectly result in a positive.

“So the concern is that that until we have really a fully accurate test, whereby we can actually say definitively that yes, this positive test means you have already had COVID, then we can’t really take the data to the bank, so to speak,” Kamitsuka said.

In particular, he said — as did the FDA — early antibody tests shouldn’t be used to make individual decisions about personal health and safety.

“The one thing that’s absolutely certain about this virus is there’s a lot we need to learn still. And every day, it seems things change a bit. So so I wouldn’t make any individual decisions based on the tests that are available yet.”

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