By now you’ve probably heard of COVID-19 antibody testing, but what can a test tell you? 8News investigator Kerri O’Brien went into a local lab offering the tests right now to learn more.
You may remember, last month 8News introduced viewers to Granger Genetics in Midlothian as the lab staff was working on a study to validate its antibody test. That study is now complete and the lab is “FDA allowed” to test anyone interested.
Inside the lab tiny droplets of blood about to be tested for antibodies could hold to key to better understanding COVID-19, saving lives and reopening businesses. Dr. Rebecca Caffrey, Granger Genetics program manager for its COVID-19 testing program told 8News, “By doing antibody testing, we can identify do you have antibodies? How many do you have and are you a candidate to actually use your superpower to save lives?”
Caffrey and technicians are processing blood samples from patients around the state. The antibody test looks for specific proteins in the blood indicating whether a person has been exposed to the novel coronavirus.
Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, state public health lab, has he been cautious about adopting antibody testing for fear some blood tests may detect antibodies from other kinds of coronaviruses. 8News asked how Caffrey can be sure their test is detecting COVID-19 antibodies.
“We know with this test because we are testing for spike protein and that is unique to this virus,” she explained.
In addition, Granger’s test looks for both IgG and IgM antibodies. IgM indicates a recent infection and IgG appears when the body has cleared the infection. Although Caffrey admits it’s still unclear if having antibodies for the coronavirus will protect people from getting sick again.
“We cannot say you are immune but you had an immune response,” Caffrey told 8News.
Yet, antibody tests could give us a clearer picture of the scope of this disease, help scientists better understand what those antibodies could mean in terms of immunity, length of protection and who may be safe to emerge from lockdown. One thing we do know right now, those who have antibodies can potentially donate live-saving plasma.
“There is one thing that we know will save lives and that is transfer of plasma from a recovered patient,” explained Caffrey.
Caffrey wants to test as many people as she can. It’s why Chesterfield dentist Christopher Smiley has opened up his office to Caffrey.
“The more we learn about the antibodies, the more we will learn about this virus,” said Smiley.
It was there that O’Brien rolled up her sleeve as part of Caffrey’s initial study. Twenty-four hours later, the results were in.
“I am very pleased to tell you that you have IgG antibody,” Caffrey told O’Brien, who was shocked to hear as she said she felt fine. “So you were exposed and you mounted an immune response and you now have some protection against COVID-19. So, congratulations. I wish I had antibodies.”
O’Brien’s IgM levels are negative meaning this wasn’t a recent infection. “It is probably longer than four weeks ago maybe five or six weeks or even a little bit longer,” Caffrey explained.
O’Brien says she has had zero COVID-related symptoms. Yet, despite taking every precaution, covering her mouth in public, handwashing and wiping everything down she somehow became infected with the virus.
“I think there is a lot more people out there like you and we haven’t identified them because we haven’t been doing widespread testing,” said Caffrey.
In fact, Caffrey’s initial study to validate this test seems to support her theory. She took a sampling of both, those who had tested positive and negative for the coronavirus.
“Of the community volunteers who had been confirmed negative, 40% had antibodies, so that nasal swab test is highly inaccurate,” she told 8News.
Caffrey believes the results of the nasal swab test is really a coin-flip.
“We have a large population of people in this state who have already been exposed and who already had an immune response,” she said. “And that’s important because that changes the math.”
It’s why Caffrey is working hard to get more people tested for antibodies. You can register for a test online at Granger Genetics website. The cost of a test is $139. Granger will also hold drive-thru testing by appointment. The lab staff hopes to soon travel to businesses and provide testing to their employees.