Published on May 13, 2020

Should I pay for an antibody test?

Antibody testing has been a topic of conversation across the country and among our patients here in Douglas County. Antibody tests, which are also called serological tests, look for COVID-19 antibodies in the blood of patients who have either recovered from the illness or who were asymptomatic. Typically, antibody tests help public health officials determine the true rate of infection among a population. 

We have fielded numerous questions from the community, and at every turn, we’ve looked to our infectious disease specialists for guidance. Our physicians have carefully reviewed the options available, and at this point, they have concerns about the validity and current utility of available serologic testing. 

“We know testing options are available in our community,” said Dr. Christopher Brychel, infectious disease physician at LMH Health. “At this point in time, I’m telling my patients to save their money, because the tests available provide no clear answers or actionable results. Additionally, by going into a clinic or facility for antibody testing can put our patients and community at risk.” 

Brychel said that in order for a test to provide meaningful information, it must have the ability to detect disease (reliable sensitivity). “We need to know that a positive test truly indicates disease detection with high specificity,” he said. “At this time, available assays do not appear to reach that benchmark, but we are hopeful that will change in the near future.” 

Brychel added that knowing the significance of specific antibody levels in the context of immunity is paramount to successful intervention. “That data is still in its infancy,” he said. “I am hopeful that in the near future, not only will we have a reliable test, but also the knowledge of how to apply this test to our patients in a meaningful fashion that is congruent with CDC and local public health guidelines.” 

Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, infectious disease physician at LMH Health, summed up the situation: “Any result at this point in time has zero meaning for any one patient.”

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Should I pay for an antibody test?