SALT LAKE CITY — ARUP Laboratories began COVID-19 antibody testing this week for the University of Utah and the Intermountain Healthcare system.
The reason for the limited availability at this time is supply chain limitations, according to Dr. Julio Delgado, Chief Medical Officer ARUP Laboratories.
“We are working to expand this capacity in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
The hope is to soon have the test available across the state, and then nationally, Dr. Delgado said.
This new testing will be able to tell if someone, even those who may have been asymptomatic, has been exposed to the virus, said Dr. Patricia Slev, ARUP’s Section Chief for Immunology.
“I think this is the next step in testing for COVID-19 in the state, as well as the country,” she said.
The initial goal of testing, Dr. Delgado said, is to:
- Determine the number of individuals who have actually been infected, including those with mild disease and those without symptoms. This will provide better idea of the true rate of infection and a better understanding of the case fatality rate.
- Determine individuals who have developed immunity against this infection and potentially could come back to work.
- Guide public health strategies in the context of diagnosis, contact tracing and containment of future outbreaks
This testing is a game-changer, said Dr. Ray Firszt, an allergist-immunologist in Utah, and we are lucky to have a national lab in our backyard.
“We believe that if you’ve been infected and you recover, and you develop IgG antibodies, so the memory antibody, that you are effectively immune to the virus. Which means you cannot get it again if you are exposed to the same antibodies and you’re not contagious to someone else,” he said.
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While the testing will soon be available statewide, it likely will start with testing those on the front lines of fighting COVID-19.
“At this point, I think the target is healthcare workers who have been exposed perhaps to the disease. To try to determine if they have become infected with the virus and likely developed immunity in case they have not presented symptoms,” Dr. Delgado said. "That will allow us to identify individuals who have developed immunity against the infection, who could potentially could go back to work."
This testing presents many possibilities, Dr. Slev said.
“Other applications in the near future may also include using this antibody test to determine if individuals who have had the infection and who have recovered can donate blood, which contain antibodies to help others fighting the infection,” she said.
Antibody testing would need to be ordered by a healthcare provider, Dr. Delgado said.
ARUP Laboratories is working with investigators at the University of Utah and the Utah Department of Health. The state government is also participating in developing a surveillance study of COVID-19 in Utah.