What is the skinny on COVID-19 antibody tests? Are test results accurate and what do results mean for you and your loved ones?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought fast advances in medicine. One advance, antibody testing, is gaining attention. What is antibody testing and what can it mean for you?

When your body fights an infection, it produces proteins, or antibodies. Antibodies form weeks after infection and fight reinfection from the same disease.

Studies suggest antibodies from initial COVID-19 infection do not give long-term immunity. Research also found people with mild or no symptoms produce few antibodies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved COVID -19 antibody tests, with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). A way to fast-track medical treatments, EUA is not perfect. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA approved treatments through EUA that were later revoked because of bad side effects.

You can order antibody tests online and take the test in your own home. In addition, some health clinics in Gallatin County are selling antibody tests, but how sure are doctors about current COVID-19 antibody tests? Short answer: Not very.

Current COVID-19 antibody tests have a high number of false positive results. False positive results are risky, because people may think they are safe from infection and stop taking basic COVID-19 precautions, like social distancing, hand washing, and wearing face coverings. Current tests may not give accurate results for people with mild or no symptoms. Because of this doubt, interpret antibody test results with caution.

The science will catch up. The first HIV antibody tests were far less accurate than today’s tests. Over time, COVID-19 antibody test accuracy will also improve. Until then, test results should not be used to determine treatments, timelines to go back to work or school, or to predict future immunity. Also, even with a positive antibody test, continue taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 within our community.