The FDA has approved an antibody test by Stanford University to determine if someone has contracted the coronavirus even if they have already recovered. The widely used nasal swab tests can only detect an active infection.
“We don’t really know that these antibodies provide immunity, that’s one of the things that we’re trying to figure out very quickly,” says Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Lucille Packard Children's Hospital and professor at the Stanford School of Medicine. “We just know that the antibodies are directive against the virus, and what we think that will show us is whether someone has been infected or not.”
Health professionals and first responders could be the first people to receive the new test.
“I think once we collect specimens from people in these populations, running the tests should be pretty straightforward,” said Dr. Maldonado. “So I think it will be a matter of weeks before we get a handle on that. Also, getting all of the resources to run the tests is going to be important too.”
Experts say with most viral infections patients who recover do develop immunity against future cases, but it is still unknown if patients can naturally develop an immunity to the novel coronavirus and if so, how long the immunity lasts and whether or not they can continue to infect others.
California Governor Gavin Newsom praised the effort in a weekend news conference, saying if people are found to have recovered from the virus and are immune, it could allow healthy people to safely return to work sooner than the general population.