Serology, or antibody testing, is a blood test that looks for proteins (antibodies) made by the body’s immune system to indicate prior exposure to a virus, in this case SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
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UT Southwestern’s researchers and physicians are racing against time to find solutions to the global COVID-19 pandemic. More than 250 investigational studies, clinical trials, and biomedical research projects are under way in our laboratories, as scientists and clinicians work tirelessly to zero in on potential breakthroughs that could provide some lasting defense against the novel coronavirus.
As the largest academic medical center in North Texas, UT Southwestern is dedicated to the mission of turning discoveries into real-world treatments for our patients and the community. If you’d like to keep track of our progress, which is part of an international sprint to the finish line in the fight against COVID-19, please visit our Research Projects website.
Opportunities to Help with COVID-19 Research
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Whether you’re sick or healthy, you can play a part in COVID-19 research. The COVID Symptom Tracker is an app created by doctors and scientists that studies the symptoms of COVID-19 and tracks its spread.
It’s a unique opportunity for anyone to help contribute to COVID-19 tracking and relief efforts. Data collected from the app will provide the health care system with critical information that can help slow the outbreak. In just a minute a day, you can report your health, get a daily estimate of COVID exposure in your area, and learn how to help slow any local outbreak.
UT Southwestern is participating in a range of COVID-19 clinical trials in order to bring the latest treatments to patients. We are always evaluating new potential trials, and our scientists have launched robust research efforts aimed at defining and better understanding the novel coronavirus. Together, the research and clinical trials will help inform better diagnostics, vaccine development, and ultimately improve our approach to prevention of COVID-19.
COVID-19 Antibody Testing FAQs for Patients
Testing to detect the presence of antibodies that can fight the COVID-19 virus has taken center stage recently as the scientific community continues to search for ways to slow the global pandemic. A variety of tests is being offered nationwide, which to some extent has created some confusion surrounding the purpose and effectiveness of each. UT Southwestern infectious disease experts James “Brad” Cutrell, M.D. provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about antibody testing in general, and talks specifically about the the tests being used at UT Southwestern.
The COVID-19 test takes a nasal swab or saliva specimen and uses a technology called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to detect when a person is actively infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus. Antibody testing takes a drop of blood from your finger and uses it to detect antibodies that indicate recent or prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
It usually takes one to two weeks after becoming sick with COVID-19 for your body’s immune system to make antibodies against the virus.
There are several different subtypes of antibodies, including IgM, IgG, and IgA. The current UT Southwestern antibody test detects IgG antibodies, or immunoglobulin G, which are the most common form of antibodies found in blood and body fluids.
A positive IgG result indicates that a person has been exposed to the virus. There is currently not enough information to know if a positive IgG result indicates the presence of protective immunity or how long immunity might last. It's also possible to have a positive IgG result and still be sick and infectious to someone else.
A negative result indicates that a person has not yet developed antibodies against the virus. This could be due to a lack of exposure to the virus, or because testing was done too early in the course of the COVID-19 disease (before 7-14 days of symptom onset), or due to a weakened immune system resulting from other treatments or medical conditions.
Preliminary results from internal testing at our lab and the manufacturer’s facility suggests this test is very accurate (low rate of false positive and false negative tests), and it has received emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some lesser tests have been shown to cross-react with antibodies of several strains of virus that cause the common cold, which are also coronaviruses. However, as additional data is generated, we will learn more about the accuracy of the test results in our patients.
The serology test may be used by your doctor to aid in the diagnosis of active infection with COVID-19, especially if your PCR test is negative and you have had symptoms for more than seven days. It also may be used to identify prior infection with COVID-19 if you had a similar illness in early 2020 that went undiagnosed. Additionally, the test can help researchers and public health officials better understand the scope of the COVID-19 disease. The test is not currently recommended for use in determining when someone can discontinue isolation or return to work.