Everything you need to know about COVID-19 antibody testing

What are antibodies? How do they work? Why are they so important to understanding a virus and how it spreads? These are just a few of the questions we posed to oncologist and CEO of Hancock Physician Network, Dr. Julia Compton.

“Antibodies are created by our immune system to help us fight bad things—bacteria, viruses,” Dr. Compton said. “So antibodies are created in any situation where the body encounters something that shouldn’t be there.”

Our body produces two types of antibodies: IgM and IgG. IgM antibodies are produced almost immediately when we get sick. IgG arrive later on in the illness. The IgG test is the one that Dr. Compton says is getting a lot of attention recently.

“The IgG test will not detect the antibody for 14 to 20 days after you have had the coronavirus,” Dr. Compton said. “When we talk about when to go get the test, we would want you to wait a full 28 days after you’ve had the initial symptoms. So, if you were sick on May 1, we wouldn’t really want you to get that test until May 28 or later, because the ability for the test to be most accurate and capture it will be most accurate after about 28 days.”

Anyone can obtain a COVID-19 antibody test through Hancock Health. Unlike the test for an active infection, which involves swabbing of the nose or throat, the antibody test requires a blood draw. You can request the COVID-19 antibody test through our website, or ask your physician to order the test for you, which makes it more likely to be covered by insurance. You can expect results within 48 hours.

The useful thing about antibodies is once we’ve obtained them, our bodies should know how to better fight a virus if and when we come in contact with it again in the future. Unfortunately, as with so many things involving COVID-19, there’s a lot medical experts still don’t know.

“Let’s say you test positive, and you have antibodies, and we all clap our hands and say, ‘Great!’” Dr. Compton said. “Well, how long does that mean you have some level of immunity? Does that immunity last for a month? For a year? No one knows.”

Another reason for confusion has been the flood of antibody tests that have hit the U.S. market over the last couple of months—with a wide range of accuracy (or, as the medical community calls it, specificity). The antibody test Hancock Health is using is produced by Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, and it has 100% specificity.

As the country continues to reopen and we shift to a new normal, Dr. Compton said that a positive antibody test offers some level of psychological wellbeing. “Hey, I have the antibodies. Maybe that gives me some level of protection,” she said. “I think people want to know that.”

As antibody testing becomes more widespread, it should give medical experts a clearer picture of how widespread the coronavirus is within their communities. Dr. Compton said people will likely be surprised to learn that more than 85% of Indiana residents have likely not come in contact with COVID-19. For the vast majority of us, that means that we are no safer today than we were on the first day of the outbreak.

“The majority of us have not experienced the coronavirus,” Dr. Compton said. “While we reopen, we still need to be doing everything we can to decrease or limit the transmission of this disease.”

For Dr. Compton, the most effective way to stay diligent in our effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is through the universal use of masks.

“If we are all wearing a mask, our ability to transmit and receive the coronavirus is substantially lower,” she said. “We still need to be protective of ourselves and each other. The best thing we can do is everybody wears a mask. With those measures in place, we can go on with reopening and do that as safely as possible.”

Are you interested in obtaining the IgG antibody test through Hancock Health? Contact your physician to order a test, or request your own test right here on our website.