Antibody tests - how do I know if I've had Coronavirus

Dr William Bird William Bird
When should you send your child back to school? by William Bird

In this week’s Beat the Bug blog, Dr William Bird discusses the new antibody test and the impact it could have on helping to fight the Coronavirus…

A couple of weeks ago, I headed down to Basingstoke’s drive-through testing centre to collect the swab that enables you to check for Covid-19.

I had had a few mild symptoms and as a frontline NHS worker, it was essential that I know if I had the virus so I could self-isolate and ensure that I wasn’t putting any patients or colleagues at risk of infection.

This test is what’s known as an antigen test or ‘polymerase chain reaction testing’ (PCR) and involves a swab of the nose and throat which looks to see if there’s any virus in the mucous.

It’s painless but uncomfortable, and can be self-administered. Once that’s done, the results come within a few days.

Fortunately, my results proved negative – I don’t have the virus.

This is highly reassuring, but of course, leads to the question - did I have Covid-19 at any point?

Until now, it’s been impossible to say. An incredible 70% of people who get the virus don’t show any symptoms, which means that they’re unknowingly and unwittingly transmitting it to others.

This could all change with the new Coronavirus antibody test which is being rolled out for NHS staff and patients in England. Health Protection Scotland is also set to introduce antibody testing as part of enhanced surveillance testing.

The government has described this test as a ‘game changer’ as it’s hoped that the scheme will help get people back to work even if they’ve previously tested positive. It also gives insights into how the virus spreads.

Unlike the Coronavirus test (PCR), which has been shown to give false positives and negatives, the antibody test has been found to be 100% accurate. This is a blood test which must be carried out by a trained member of staff and help determine whether a patient has had the virus.

It could also tell us whether people have developed immunity against the virus. Currently, we don’t know if people can be reinfected with the virus, or how long their protective immunity lasts.

The test is being offered to NHS staff and a rollout will take place, so that it will be available to the wider public shortly.

It’s a step in the right direction, but in the meantime, please continue to do all you can to stop the spread. Keep that 2m physical distance, keep washing hands and staying active!