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Antibody test kits could speed up health workers' return to front line


Testing is vital in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic

Testing is vital in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic

Testing is vital in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic

The UK is examining if it should roll out around 3.5 million home test kits in response to the coronavirus crisis. What do they involve?

The home test plan is being investigated by UK public health experts. It would allow people to do a DIY test at home.

It is not designed to diagnose the virus. It is an antibody test and may be able to tell somebody they are now cleared of it. It could be used by someone whose infection was already confirmed. It would also apply to a person who self-isolated after getting potential symptoms, are not sure they had the coronavirus but wants to know if they are free of it.


So it is not a fast-track alternative to the current test offered in this country to someone from a priority group who has been referred by their GP?

No. That test which is available here for priority groups is a PCR test. It tests for current infection. The test detects the virus in nasal secretions after someone has had a swab taken.


How does the antibody home test work?

The test is carried out by a device which pricks the finger for blood. It is like a home pregnancy test of sorts. It examines the blood for coronavirus antibodies and takes about 15 minutes.

If it is positive it means you have had the virus and cleared it and gained some immunity to getting it again.


What is the practical benefit of this antibody test?

Prof Kingston Mills, an expert in immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said that, while the tests cannot diagnose the virus, they could have a role to play.

They can indicate to the person if they can return to work and this is very useful if they are a health worker who needs to be back in a hospital or GP surgery as soon as possible.

They are also useful in getting a statistical picture of the extent of the infection in the community among people who did not qualify for a diagnostic test.


Could this could become more useful as time goes on and more people have to self-isolate, preventing them from working or resuming normal family life?

Yes. It would give people the reassurance that they have recovered and do not pose a risk of passing it on.


How sure can somebody be who has had coronavirus that they will not become infected again?

There is still a lot to learn about this virus but if somebody has had it they are much less likely to be infected again.