Coronavirus (COVID-19) Testing for Antibodies

At Main Line Health we are eager to help people get back to work, school and play as quickly as possible in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. We also have an unwavering commitment to community health and safety. Here’s what you need to know about coronavirus testing for antibodies.

As you may know, there has been a tremendous demand for antibody testing. These tests, which can also be referred to as serologic tests or blood serum testing, check your blood for evidence of antibodies that would be evidence of a previous COVID-19 infection. This testing may be helpful in determining:

  • Who might be potential candidates to donate blood plasma (the liquid part of your blood) which may be used as an experimental treatment for COVID-19.
  • The extent to which COVID-19 has spread in communities and throughout the United States
  • Who has been infected with COVID-19 (whether they had symptoms or not)

Note: Antibody testing is NOT the same COVID-19 diagnostic test currently used in hospitals for patients presumed to be infected with coronavirus. These diagnostic tests, performed via nasal swab, detect an active infection. Antibody testing detects whether or not a person previously had the infection.

The problem with the current coronavirus testing for antibodies

Due to the intense demand for testing, the FDA temporarily relaxed regulations on antibody tests—a vetting process that would usually take about a year—and there are now more than 100 coronavirus antibody tests on the market. They are being sold at drug stores and on the internet and through numerous health and medical facilities. The problem is many of these antibody tests have not been reviewed by the FDA and may or may not be valid. Some are even fraudulent. Some of these coronavirus antibody tests are:

  • Producing false positives—telling someone they have had coronavirus and have the antibodies when in fact they do not
  • Producing false negatives—telling someone they do not have coronavirus when in fact they do
  • Not identifying positive results when in fact coronavirus antibodies are present

In some cases, the manufacturers of the tests are also providing unreliable information. For example, if someone tests positive for coronavirus antibodies, the manufacturer’s instruction may be to no longer practice social distancing. However, this is not from medical authority. Until the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) changes its guidance on social distancing, please continue to practice this important behavior to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The FDA is in the process of setting out “minimum standards” and “sensitivities” for coronavirus testing for antibodies. This guidance will help ensure coronavirus antibody test manufacturers meet these requirements and produce greater accuracy and confidence in test results nationwide.

There is still much that is unknown about antibody testing. While experts are hopeful that a substantial number of positive antibody test results in a specific community may indicate herd immunity—a term used to describe when most of a population is immune to a specific disease—this has not yet been confirmed. Additionally, your test results alone will not determine whether or not you are immune to COVID-19 in the future. It also cannot determine whether or not you currently are infected or are contagious.

Main Line Health is currently offering coronavirus testing for antibodies utilizing an FDA-approved Abbott procedure. If you have questions about whether antibody testing is right for you, please contact your primary care provider.

Have more questions about COVID-19? Visit our COVID-19 FAQ