Scientists are devising a new weapon against the COVID-19 pandemic.
New blood tests could soon tell you if you're immune to the potentially deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Multiple companies and academic institutions are working to produce tests that can detect certain antibodies in people who were infected with the disease but were asymptomatic.
Identifying those people who are better able to withstand the disease could help to bring about an array of positive developments. For one, doctors and nurses who are immune would be better able to treat sick patients, since they would be less likely to need to be quarantined if exposed to COVID-19. For another, people who are immune could be among the first who return to work. This, in turn, could help to fill a vital need for workers in essential industries like medical equipment manufacturing, food production, and supply delivery.
"Ultimately, this [antibody test] might help us figure out who can get the country back to normal," Florian Krammer, a professor at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, told Reuters. "People who are immune could be the first people to go back to normal life and start everything up again."
Several private U.S.-based companies, such as Biomerica and Chembio Diagnostics, have already begun to sell blood tests for COVID-19 antibodies in international markets. The tests use blood from a finger prick and are easy to administer. They're also relatively inexpensive, with some costing less than $10. And some of these tests can deliver results in as little as 10 minutes.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also developing its own antibody test, but the federal government might choose to allow the use of other tests if the CDC's version is not ready soon.
But there is still a lot of uncertainty and risk surrounding these tests. Health officials don't yet know how long immunity to COVID-19 lasts. There are also questions regarding the accuracy of the tests. Moreover, it's not yet known if immunity would provide enough protection to people who are constantly exposed to the virus, such as in hospitals.
Still, these immunity tests could go a long way toward helping the U.S. and other countries around the world restart their economies, and would allow many people to begin to return to a more normal way of life.
And as for people who are not immune to COVID-19, hope remains that an effective treatment will be found soon. Biotechnology giant Gilead Sciences' (GILD 0.89%) experimental drug remdesivir is perhaps our best hope in this regard. Remdesivir showed promise in animal models for treating MERS and SARS, which are also caused by coronaviruses that are structurally similar to COVID-19, indicating that the drug may have potential as a treatment for COVID-19.