CHI Preps Antibody Testing, But Widespread Use Is Unlikely Anytime Soon

A microbiologist in the process of preparing reagents that would be used in the CDC-developed Zika MAC-ELISA test. (CDC/Sue Partridge, CDC- Ft. Collins)
June 25, 2020 - 12:22pm

CHI Health is considering the use of serology testing for patients in its hospitals and clinics. The test looks for antibodies that can indicate whether a person has been exposed to COVID-19.

But Lab Director Dr. Stephen Cavalieri says there are a lot of limitations.

"When you boil it all down, a positive serology probably means you’ve been exposed to the virus, doesn't mean you have acute infection, doesn't mean you’re immune, this should not necessarily be used for the diagnosis," he said.

Dr. Cavalieri says the nasal swab will continue to be the primary option for diagnosing COVID-19.

Widespread serology testing could help public health officials determine how many Nebraskans have already been exposed to the virus. But even that application is limited, says Dr. Jim Nora, Medical Director at Bryan Medical Center.

"Asymptomatic individuals may have a small spike in an antibody toward SARS-CoV-2," Dr. Nora said. "But they may have none at all, and it may not last for a very long time."

It takes 10 to 14 days to develop the antibodies, so serology testing can provide a false negative if someone is tested too soon.

Dr. Nora says researchers are working on more accurate options, but he doesn’t think it will have a significant role in the pandemic response in the near future.

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