Antibody Testing Patient FAQ
May 14, 2020
What is an antibody test?
When you have an infection, your body makes proteins called antibodies that circulate in your blood. Antibodies help your body fight against pathogens (germs), such as the coronavirus COVID-19. An antibody test identifies these antibodies in your blood. A negative COVID-19 antibody test means that you do not have significant levels of antibodies for the COVID-19 coronavirus in your blood.
Does a positive antibody test mean that I’m immune?
It is too soon to say. COVID-19 is a novel, or a new, type of coronavirus, and there is a lot to be learned about it. However, it’s important to note two things. First, research indicates that there may be a large number of false positives – having a positive antibody test when you actually do NOT have antibodies present (potentially up to 50 percent) even for the most accurate tests on the market when the overall occurrence of the disease in our population is low as it is now. That means the test may falsely indicate the presence of antibodies in your blood. This may change if/once the disease becomes more widespread in the region. However, even if the test is accurate in predicting the presence of the antibodies in your blood, right now, we don’t know if this really has any value, which leads to the second critical point to note.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is not enough evidence right now to suggest that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from becoming infected again. While research is being conducted to determine whether the presence of antibodies indicates immunity for the COVID-19 virus, scientists have concluded that it’s not safe to rely on the test to make decisions about treatments.
The bottom line is you should not use a positive antibody test result to assume you can relax physical distancing/precautionary practices (such as wearing a mask to protect others) since you cannot be certain that you are immune from COVID-19.
Does MedStar Health offer antibody tests?
Yes, MedStar Health offers blood-based antibody tests. To request a test, please contact your primary care provider’s office. Your provider will arrange for you to receive the necessary referral orders for bloodwork at an approved lab. Testing will be performed at MedStar Health or a reference laboratory that uses a similarly rigorous testing system, such as Quest or LabCorp, as designated by your insurance provider.
It’s important to understand that the antibody test cannot tell you with great accuracy if you have been exposed to COVID-19. And we do not yet know if the presence of antibodies indicates immunity.
A negative test means the test didn’t detect antibodies in your bloodstream and they probably/likely are not there, but it is not a 100 percent certainty of being negative (meaning you have not been exposed).
As the largest provider in the region, it is our responsibility to empower patients with the most up-to-date information regarding antibody testing, as well as provide access to the best available testing platforms. Although major organizations like the WHO, CDC, and the State of Maryland do not endorse using these results due to insufficient data about the reliability of the tests, we are aware that many patients are still interested in undergoing antibody testing. To address this interest and ensure that you have access to the best antibody test currently available, our primary care and urgent care sites will offer access to antibody testing, as well as pre- and post-test counseling so that you understand your results and what they mean.
How long does it take to receive results?
Results will be available within seven business days. You will be able to access these on your myMedStar.org patient portal account and your physician will want to review these with you so that you may fully understand your results.
Are my results being reported or shared anywhere?
Individualresults will not be shared with anyone, but de-identified (meaning you are not personally identified) aggregate data may be used to inform our epidemiologic studies; as an academic health system, we use de-identified test data to better understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community and how to improve the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
Can an antibody test be used to determine if I’m currently infected with COVID-19?
No. Antibody tests look for antibodies that the body makes after exposure to the virus. Because it takes time for your body to make antibodies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend using an antibody test to diagnose COVID-19.