THE INVESTIGATORS: Doctors weigh in on antibody testing as results prove widely unreliable

THE INVESTIGATORS: How accurate are COVID-19 antibody tests?

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - There have been a lot of numbers thrown at folks since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but doctors say they’re paying attention to one set of numbers now more than ever as many places across the country move ahead with reopening.

”Especially at this point, while we’re still kind of figuring out what the accuracy of those tests is going to be,” said Dr. Jacob Wood with Baton Rouge General (BRG).

Antibody testing lets people know whether there are traces of the coronavirus in their blood. If they test positive for coronavirus antibodies, that means they have either been infected and are recovering or they were asymptomatic but still have the immunity in their system. While many people have raced out to get those tests, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now say about 50% of the antibody testing that’s being done is inaccurate. This means a lot of folks who have gotten a positive antibody test might now be walking around with a false sense of security.

”Nothing has been validated as being a gold standard yet, so to put an actual number on the false positives would be nearly impossible at this point,” Dr. Wood added.

Dr. Wood says not all antibody tests are created equal. He says some have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but others have not. He also believes it’s just too early to tell whether the data that’s being collected is reliable. He’s not the only one who believes it will take time and a little trial and error before those antibody tests can be fully trusted.

“At this point, it’s just not that easy to make a call on,” said Wood.

Dr. Rebecca Christofferson, who teaches pathobiological sciences within LSU’s Veterinary Medicine program, agrees.

”Diagnostic tests, especially when they’re created in a pressure cooker that is a global pandemic, they’re not going to be 100 percent ever,” said Dr. Christofferson.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Dr. Christofferson based on the uncertainty surrounding the antibody testing if it’s even worth it to get them at this point.

“Whether or not it’s worth it is really dependent on the use of them. Are they worth it for personal peace of mind? It might be. That’s going to be a personal decision,” said Dr. Christofferson. “I think they are useful in trying to determine on a population scale what’s going on.”

Dr. Christofferson says there’s a lot of progress that has to be made with the antibody testing, but she believes the more folks who do take the antibody test, the more data doctors have with which to work. For those who have already gotten an antibody test, the question now becomes can they trust those results? And if not, should they get tested again? Dr. Christofferson says it depends on the situation.

”I don’t think it’s wrong to want to go get another test. I wouldn’t take five of them though,” she added. “I don’t think that’s cost-effective and at some point, you have to trust the results, but if you don’t have a known contact or a known exposure, I don’t think it would be worth it, no.”

Both doctors say anyone who chooses to get an antibody test should find out as much information as they can about their test, like what lab will be handling the results.

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