Was It COVID-19?: Antibody Testing Can Help Determine

May 6, 2020

There is evidence the first known coronavirus-related death in the United States occurred on Feb. 5. What does this mean for individuals, like Kelly Bradbury, who were sick at that time but unable to get tested? 

“I just remember I spent about most of my time, besides those meetings, breathing on the bathroom floor and feeling my lungs, like, ‘are they tight? What's happening?’ you know," she said, "just being way too anxious about all of it, but spending hours breathing actually.”

Bradbury got sick in March. She experienced a fever for three days, chills and a lingering fatigue that lasted for almost a month.

But she didn’t have a cough, which meant she was denied testing for the coronavirus due to the shortage in tests Utah experienced early on in the pandemic. 

On Tuesday, Intermountain Healthcare announced limited capabilities for SARS-COV2 antibody testing. Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an IHC infectious diseases physician, said this test can help determine if individuals who were sick with COVID-19-like symptoms after December, but were unable to get tested, may have contracted the coronavirus. But it’s not a 100% guarantee, as there are instances of false positives.

“I think right now, what we want the public to do is really temper their enthusiasm for these tests. The science behind the serology testing determine of what it truly means to an individual patient just isn't there yet," he said. "We can't tell you a positive test means we have immunity. We may be able to tell you that in the next coming weeks to months based on national studies, but we won't be able to tell you if that immunity lasts for two weeks, two months or two decades, that's going to have to come with time.”

When she first heard about antibody testing to see if a person had been exposed to the coronavirus, Bradbury wanted to get tested to see if she had, in fact, contracted the virus and was therefore immune. But now, her reasoning behind wanted to get tested has shifted.

“The other part of me for wanting to test is because I'm a scientist. And it will become a data point, you know, if I take the antibody test, then it's a data point, and they can use that to track how this happened," Bradbury said. "A bunch of other data points where people are getting those tests can help us to sort of see how these things happen for you know, trying to manage and mitigate future pandemics.”

Stenehjem said regardless of if a person gets antibody testing, it shouldn’t affect personal protection and social distancing efforts as there is still much to learn about immunity from the coronavirus.