What’s the scoop with COVID19 Testing?
I wanted to get you all some up-to-date information about testing for COVID19 and let you know about what’s going on with testing through Reddy Natural Medicine. We HAVE to do more testing if we’re ever going to open up the country again. So here’s the scoop.
There are two types of testing that are being done. The first type is called Real Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT) PCR test. The RT-PCR test is a pretty complicated process where COVID19 viral genetic material is identified within the patient’s cells. It’s done by collecting cells from the back of the nose and throat using a swab. The swab is sent to the lab where it goes through the process of identifying the presence of the virus. The RT-PCR test is the official way COVID19 is diagnosed so if you hear that someone tested positive for COVID19, this is the test that was used. Patients may also be re-tested with this test during course of illness to see when they are virus-free and no longer infectious.
The second type of testing is serum antibody testing. Antibodies are proteins (called Immunoglobulins or Igs) that the immune system creates in response to an infection. Antibodies are very specific to each type of infection and they are created by the B cells of our immune system. There are 5 different types of antibodies that we can have and they all do a little bit different job. For the purposes of antibody testing for COVID19, we are looking at two types, IgM and IgG.
- IgM levels in the blood go up first, typically about 5 – 7 days after infection. IgM is used to show a recent infection response and to confirm the results of a positive RT-PCR test. It can also be used to identify someone who might have an infection that didn’t test positive with the RT-PCR. In this case, a repeat RT-PCR test would need to be done.
- IgG levels in the blood go up about 3 weeks after infection. Testing positive for IgG antibodies indicates past exposure or recovery from mild or non symptomatic infections. Having IgG antibodies is also potentially a sign of immunity.
We have antibodies for all the infections we’ve ever had. For example, if you’ve had chicken pox, then you have antibodies to the chicken pox virus. There are many things that antibodies do for us in response to infection. They help bring in other immune cells, they help clear the infection, and they create a “memory” of the infection so the immune system can respond quickly and efficiently should it see the infection again. Remember, in the case of COVID19, this is a new virus so our immune systems have not seen it before. If we are exposed and if the immune system is doing its job properly, we will create antibodies. Having antibodies present can be a sign of immunity.
A word of caution here however. I wish it were as simple as get a test, see that you have antibodies, and then you’re all set. COVID19 is so new that there are a couple of issues that we have to take into account. First, we really don’t know exactly how the presence of antibodies translates into actual immunity. How long will you be protected after you make antibodies? Is it lasting protection for life? 1 year? 6 weeks? We really don’t know yet. The other issue that’s makes testing for COVID19 antibodies challenging is actually a function of statistics. Right now, the actual disease prevalence in most communities is extremely low. For example, as of this writing, Colorado has 12,256 confirmed cases. This is out of a population of 5,579,000 people. That’s 0.2% of the population. From a statistics standpoint, this type of testing is most helpful when we can compare the results with actual diagnosed cases. With so few diagnosed cases, the false positives for the test (which are statistically part of all tests) can be too high to make each individual test as helpful as it could be. Here’s a good article that does a good job discussing the limitations.
So does this mean that these tests are useless? Well, I don’t think so. We just have to be very careful in how we interpret and use the data. Individuals who live in places where there are a lot more cases of COVID19 will find their results much more useful while those in places where we haven’t seen as much infection will have to be careful.
Currently I’m offering the antibody testing at the office. I’m not offering the RT-PCR test as I’m not set up with all the personal protective equipment necessary to collect a sample safely. I’m testing antibodies through US Biotek, a lab that I’ve used for other immune system tests. Their COVID19 Antibody test has a 95% sensitivity and a 97% specificity. This is about as accurate as you can get with this type of testing. I trust them and know their test is a good one. The cost of the test is $125 and requires a blood draw.
Who should get tested?
- Anyone diagnosed with COVID19 and has recovered.
- Anyone who had COVID19 symptoms but didn’t get tested.
- Anyone who had COVID19 symptoms but tested negative with RT-PCR testing
- Anyone who has been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID19
- Anyone working in hospitals
- Anyone consistently working around the public (grocery store workers, etc.)
- At this point, I’m not recommending just testing randomly to “see if you’re immune”. I don’t think this test will accurately show that. I really wish it did. Down the road it may as we learn more.
Well that’s all I have for today. Please reach out if you’d like to get tested. Thanks for all your support and please know that I’m available to support you through this time. There are very successful protocols for treating this virus should you need it.