New antibody test can tell you if you have been infected with coronavirus

Tom Clarke

Former Science Editor

A test that could be distributed around the country to see whether someone has is or has been infected with COVID-19 been described as “game changing” by the Prime Minister and his scientific advisors.

But don’t believe the headlines that such a tests could be available “within days.”

We’re talking about an antibody or serological test.

It’s different to the DNA-based test that looks for the virus itself and has been used so far to see if someone is positive for Covid-19 or not.

That test will remain the gold standard for a diagnosis, but an antibody test can tell you much more.

By detecting antibodies to the Covid-19 virus in your blood it can tell whether you have been infected with the virus, not just whether you are or not. That answers two really big questions.

First, for you as an individual, tells you whether you’ve been infected and therefore whether you can go back to work, or back into the community and no longer spread the virus around.

The antibody test was described as a 'game changer' by Boris Johnson. Credit: PA

Second, it could give public health specialists their first estimates of how many people out there have had the infection without needing to go to hospital.

That could give them crucial information about when the “peak” in the outbreak is going to hit the NHS and how many Covid-19 casualties we can reasonably expect.

The government announced yesterday that it has ordered 3.5 million of the tests, and that it will have finished evaluating them for effectiveness “within days”.

The test will give the first estimates of how many people out there have had the infection. Credit: PA

However, that’s not the same as the tests being available next week. It’s not yet clear if someone could perform the test themselves — it requires a “finger-prick” of blood and some chemicals to be added to a cartridge.

Most similar tests are performed in clinics. If they weren’t sent to home addresses, how could people get them from the chemist or their GP’s without congregating and further spreading the virus around.

No mention from government also, why they have ordered 3.5 million of the tests but haven’t yet finished evaluating them. We’re expecting more details in the coming days.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know