Salt Lake City, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 05/06/2020 --Intermountain Healthcare has started to use a COVID-19 antibody test offered by ARUP which may help identify previous COVID-19 infections. An antibody blood test will be given to carefully selected Intermountain Healthcare patients and caregivers who meet specific criteria.
This test is performed on a blood sample to determine whether an individual has developed antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19.
Standard molecular (PCR) testing performed on nasal/throat samples will continue to be the first line of COVID-19 testing for the general public.
PCR testing is used to detect viral material in order to identify if a person has, or does not have, COVID-19 in their nose or throat on the day they're sampled. Ideally, these two tests may be used together to develop an overall picture of COVID-19 in a community, according to Intermountain infectious diseases experts.
"When COVID-19 antibody testing is done in addition to PCR testing and in collaboration with the state and other providers, it can improve research and learning about the novel coronavirus here in Utah," said Eddie Stenehjem, MD, an infectious diseases physician and medical director of Intermountain's Antibiotic Stewardship program.
"Antibody testing may provide further data to give us a better sense of how aggressively the virus is circulating in the community, and the proportion of the population that is impacted, as well as a better understanding of how to protect our caregivers and keep them safe," said Dr. Stenehjem.
Both types of tests have limitations, cautions Dr. Stenehjem.
The standard PCR test does not determine if the patient has had COVID-19 at any time prior to the test. Antibody testing by itself will not reliably identify persons who are currently infected with COVID-19, he added.
Ideally, these two tests may be used in different circumstances to develop an overall picture of COVID-19 in a community.
The PCR test can identify persons who need to be isolated or quarantined and can be used to control spread of the disease. Antibody testing may prove to be valuable later in the process.
Uses could include a better understanding of the true spread of COVID-19, including case fatality rates and other important disease indicators. Positive antibody test results will be reported to the Utah Department of Health.
"If a person has a positive antibody testing result, we don't know if that results in immunity to subsequent COVID-19 infections," said Dr. Stenehjem. "We're still unraveling that science. Even if a person has COVID-19 antibodies, they should still continue to practice social distancing and if they're a caregiver they still need to wear personal protective equipment. Positive antibody results should not provide people with a false sense of security."
COVID-19 antibody testing is being offered broadly across the U.S., but most tests have not been carefully scrutinized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to Bert Lopansri, MD, Intermountain's associate medical director for infectious diseases and medical director for microbiology.
"At Intermountain we are deliberately evaluating all of the different options to ensure we select the most ideal test," he said.
Limited testing availability requires antibody testing to be prioritized for individuals where a positive result would support care decisions or patient isolation and public health actions. The most common examples would include hospitalized patients with COVID-19 symptoms and a negative nasal swab test and high-risk healthcare workers.
Dr. Lopansri reminds the public that antibody testing can be helpful to better understand the full scale the pandemic has had on our communities.
"At this early stage of test development, antibody tests have numerous limitations and unknowns. Companies are rushing to make antibody tests available as soon as possible. Future studies are needed so we can understand if a positive test equals immunity and if so, for how long, he added."
What a positive antibody test result means:
- You were previously infected by COVID-19.
- Your body has produced a measurable antibody response to COVID-19.
- A positive test can also represent a false positive.
- A positive test does not mean the individual is immune to COVID-19.
What a negative antibody test means:
- There is no evidence you had a past COVID-19 infection. If you still have symptoms that have lasted less than two weeks, it may be too early to detect antibodies.
- The negative antibody result can't be used to rule out acute or asymptomatic COVID-19 infection.
- It's unclear if asymptomatic individuals create an immune response with any detectable antibody.
- If you are immunocompromised, you may not create adequate or detectable antibodies.
For more information about COVID-19 and COVID-19 testing, see https://intermountainhealthcare.org/covid19-coronavirus/get-testing/ or
About Intermountain Healthcare
Intermountain Healthcare is a not-for-profit system of 24 hospitals, 215 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,500 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes and sustainable costs. For more information, see intermountainhealthcare.org.