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Immunity test could be game-changer in battle against COVID-19

Posted at 9:57 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-31 14:54:49-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah immunologist says a test showing if a person has had COVID-19 and, more importantly, if they’re immune, could have a major impact on the global approach to the epidemic.

In February, Dr. Ray Firszt became ill while traveling to Colorado.

“I was stuck in a hotel for two days, didn’t get outside. I was pretty miserable,” Dr. Firszt said.

It happened weeks before COVID-19 spread widely across the U.S., but he still had doubts.

“I got to thinking, well, what if I had coronavirus back in February. How would I know that?”

On Thursday night, the Tanner Clinic immunologist took a 15 minute test to see if his immune system made antibodies while fighting COVID-19.

"Because this virus is unique, we’ve never had this virus before. [The antibody] presence identifies that we’ve been exposed to the virus,” Dr. Firszt said.

The science behind the test can identify other disease such as hepatitis, influenza and measles.

While used internationally, a COVID-19 antibody test has yet to be administered widely in the U.S.

“If we are going to use this to strategize getting people back into society, I’d say it’s a game changer,” Dr. Firszt said.

The test acts much like a pregnancy test. Two lines mean COVID-19 antibodies were found in the bloodstream and therefore, the person is immune.

“I think that type of information is powerful,” Dr. Firszt said.

Dr. Firszt’s test came out negative and he remains at risk for getting COVID-19.

Yet, he raises questions for others who have the antibodies.

“Can we allow these people to potentially go out into the economy, go work, go out to the grocery stores, open up restaurants and that other people can feel comfortable around them, knowing they are immune and can’t pass on the virus?”

Dr. Firszt says the nasal COVID-19 test is still important for people currently suffering from the disease.

If you’re interested in the antibody test, talk to your doctor. It has not been approved by the FDA.