You’ve heard a lot of talk about antibodies, which are what your immune system makes when you get sick, to protect you from getting that infection again.
Medical Reporter Meg Farris and her photographer wanted to see if those antibody tests really work and if they are worth the cost. So they gave a blood sample to get some answers.
Photojournalist Steve Wolfram remembers getting really sick in late January after he got back from shooting a special report in Cuba. His flu test was negative.
The first week in February, I too had a severe respiratory infection with high fever, a deep cough, which put me in bed for five days. Did we have COVID-19? So we turned to infectious disease specialists Dr. Brobson Lutz for a rapid antibody test.
But he warned us he is skeptical about their effectiveness.
"Over 250 companies worldwide are distributing these kits now and it’s really the wild wild west out there," said Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Brobson Lutz.
Case in point: One patient that he knew had recovered from COVID-19 was positive for antibodies with one company’s kit, but negative on another company’s kit. So we brought in Channel 4 Investigative Reporter David Hammer. He knows he had COVID-19 a month ago. On each company test he had a very light positive line for antibodies. Dr. Lutz says that is a problem. Most viral antibody tests give you a measurement of antibody levels, not just a blanket yes or no.
"I don’t think this first generation of tests has been vetted enough and I don’t really trust them. I don’t think they’re sensitive enough to pick up some people who have been infected," he said.
Steve and I were both negative on the 10-minute test. So we also gave a tube of blood to send to an established pharmaceutical company lab for results. Still Dr. Lutz is skeptical.
"There’s just not enough standardization and I believe that a lot of people who have been exposed to this virus and may have immunity, are not showing up as positive on these tests," said Dr. Lutz.
So if we have antibodies, what does that means? Are we protected?
"I would recommend that people put that $109 in their pocket and wait until some better tests become available," advised Dr. Lutz.
It could take at least four days or so before the antibody results come back from the laboratory test. These tests are still not approved by the FDA. It is only being allowed now under Emergency Use Authorization.