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Antibodies and our understanding of how they relate to COVID-19

Series: Coronavirus | Story 113

Last updated 6/5/2020 at 10:41am

Antibodies are proteins that can fight off infections. The human body creates antibodies when the immune system responds to an infection. The antibodies that the body creates when a person becomes infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 are made specifically to attack that particular virus.

After someone has fought off COVID-19, these antibodies remain in the bloodstream and are a sign a person has had the virus. This virus is new, and so are the antibodies.

The medical community is still learning about what it means for a person’s health to have antibodies to the COVID-19 virus. If someone has had COVID-19, the antibodies probably protect them from getting COVID-19 again for a while, but it’s not at all clear whether if they might be protected for weeks, months, years, or forever.

Antibody tests

Antibody tests look for antibodies in the blood. People may also hear this test referred to as a “serology test,” which just means blood test. If a test finds antibodies in the blood, that means the person has been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. These antibodies can be found in a person’s blood whether they had any symptoms or not.

Because it can take someone a couple of weeks to make antibodies in response to a new virus, health care providers will not use an antibody test to diagnose a person with COVID-19. They will use a nasal swab that looks for the virus directly.

How many people have antibodies?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other researchers are planning studies to use antibody testing to help learn how common COVID-19 is and how many people have already been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. These studies may also help scientists learn how many people get COVID-19 but have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Then we could use that information to help us make decisions around the things the community can do to stay safe, like social distancing.

Can we share antibodies?

Some information suggests that plasma (the liquid part of the blood that has the antibodies in it) from people who have had COVID-19 can help other people recover from COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration is still researching whether plasma from people who have recovered is safe and effective as a treatment for COVID-19.

If you are eligible to donate blood and you have been fully recovered from COVID-19 for at least two weeks, you can consider donating plasma, which may help save the lives of people seriously ill from COVID-19 and may help scientists learn more about these antibodies.

Practice compassion

Even if you haven’t had COVID-19, the Washington State Department of Health asks that you consider donating blood. Social distancing and canceled blood drives have led to a shortage of blood. You can contact local donation centers and schedule a time for physically distant blood donation


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