More than 2.5 million Americans have had confirmed coronavirus infections. But the experts say the REAL numbers are as much as 10 times higher.
That would mean 25 million Americans… roughly the entire population of Texas… may have already had the COVID-19 virus and recovered.
And many with mild or no symptoms don’t even know it.
That’s led to a surge of interest in antibody tests, with people lining up for blood draws to see if they’ve had the infection. Some are paying hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket for the tests.
But before you reach into your wallet and roll up your sleeve, there are TWO THINGS you need to know about these tests and those antibodies.
Because what you’ve heard on TV may not match the reality of this nasty infection.
The TRUTH about coronavirus antibodies
The THEORY behind antibody testing is that if you’ve already had the infection, you’re fully stocked with COVID-19 antibodies.
And having those on board means you can’t get sick again, so it’s safe to head back out and pick up life where you left off before the pandemic began.
So you can see why people are willing to line up for hours AND pay big money for these tests. But the reality is much more complicated.
First, as it turns out, having the infection may NOT offer the protection you think.
A new study has revealed that 70-80 percent of recovered coronavirus patients have antibodies. In other words, they would turn up POSITIVE on those tests people are lining up for leading them to THINK they have protection.
Except the study ALSO finds that in many cases, it doesn’t appear folks have enough of the all-important “neutralizing” antibodies that may stop reinfection.
A third of the study volunteers had levels so low that they would – at least in theory – be prone to another FULL infection if they were exposed.
While most of the remaining participants seemed to have some degree of partial immunity. The researchers say that likely means they COULD get a second infection, but it might be a less severe version.
Only two of the 111 patients tested had the levels of neutralizing antibodies that would suggest total immunity from another battle with the virus. But other research finds even these folks might not have protection for long as the antibodies can fade within months.
Subpar tests could put you at risk
The second problem is that most of the mass-market antibody tests out there are only so-so at best. In fact, there are still BIG questions about the accuracy of ALL antibody tests.
Researchers like them because they can at least get some sense of the big picture in a community if they run thousands of tests. And they can be useful for this reason.
But they warn that they wouldn’t count on those tests to make individual decisions about what’s safe and what’s not. They’re just NOT that good yet.
In other words, it’s probably best to resist the temptation for an antibody test unless your doctor orders one. And if you do get the test… or if you KNOW you’ve had the infection… you should never assume you are corona-proof.
Spotty and fading immunity and subpar tests mean you still need to be careful out there. Arm your immune system, avoid crowds, keep your distance, and wear a mask.