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Carle Hospital Plans To Launch COVID-19 Antibody Testing In Upcoming Weeks

URBANA – Carle Foundation Hospital is preparing to launch antibody testing for COVID-19. 

The tests could be available to patients within the next two weeks, says Carle’s Chief Quality Officer Dr. Robert Healy.

Not to be confused with COVID-19 testing that is used to diagnose someone who is currently sick, antibody testing determines whether a person has previously been infected with the coronavirus disease COVID-19, regardless of whether they ever showed symptoms or were diagnosed.

The antibody tests on the market do not need FDA approval and are being offered by dozens of companies that have received “emergency use authorization” to sell the tests. 

Since research to determine the accuracy of COVID-19 antibody tests are still underway, Healy says Carle won’t be providing the tests to patients until after they’ve done their own validation studies.

Validation studies involve using the tests, which Carle has acquired from Illinois-based company Abbott, to analyze blood samples known to be lacking the novel coronavirus–because they were drawn from people in late 2019 before the coronavirus emerged–as well as samples from people in Champaign county who have tested positive for COVID-19, once they’ve recuperated

Healy says the studies will help determine the accuracy of the tests.

But even once the tests are validated and made available for patients, Healy says exactly what a positive antibody test result means for someone remains unclear because the research is lacking on whether antibodies give a person immunity, and if they do, for how long.

“Right now, unfortunately, all we can say is, if you have the antibody, you’ve been exposed to this virus, and your body has formed a reaction to it,” Healy says. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the studies, (which are) ongoing as we speak throughout the world, tell us.”

Julie Pryde, administrator of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, says the agency will work with Carle to see how the initial phase of antibody testing goes with patients at Carle and then “work on a testing strategy for the entire community.”

The state of New York is the first to begin widespread antibody testing in an effort to determine what percentage of the population has already been infected. 

The National Institutes of Health launched a clinical trial earlier this month aimed at determining how many people in the U.S. may have been infected with COVID-19 without knowing it.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman

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Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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