Searching for answers regarding the presence of COVID-19 in Pike County, the Pike County General Health District began conducting antibody testing on July 1.
The antibody test is entirely different from the test used to determine if an individual is currently infected.
“This (antibody) test checks your blood by looking for antibodies from a previous exposure – not the active virus. When you are exposed to COVID-19 or any infection for that matter, your immune system builds up antibodies, which are proteins that help fight off that infection. This test is looking for those antibodies,” explained Pike County Health Commissioner Matt Brewster.
The results from July 1 came back much quicker than expected and have already been returned from Quest Diagnostics. According to a post on the Pike County General Health District’s Facebook page, the results from July 1 show a total of 170 individuals were tested. Of those 170, 168 were negative for antibodies and two were positive. The earliest symptom onset was Nov. 12, 2019.
“The two individuals who were positive have been notified. One of the two positive cases was actually a known confirmed positive case that we used as a control. The earliest symptom onset of the second positive antibody case was November 12 after out-of-state travel,” read the post.
To be tested for COVID-19 antibodies at the Pike County General Health District through Quest Diagnostics, a blood draw is required. Quest Diagnostics provided four phlebotomists for the July 1 testing.
“There are numerous types of antibody tests approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) under Emergency Use Authorization. The COVID-19 antibody test we used requires a blood draw,” explained Brewster.
“If that (antibody) test comes back positive, then that means that you were likely infected with COVID-19 at some time in the past,” Brewster stated. “It may also mean that you have some immunity or protection from getting infected again. However, the level of immunity and how long that immunity might last are still unknown.”
For those who constantly watch the COVID-19 numbers, it is important to note how those with positive antibodies will be counted.
“Positive antibody tests will count as a probable case per ODH (Ohio Department of Health) reporting requirements – not confirmed,” said Brewster.
“We will also list them separately on our daily update, so people do not think there is an outbreak in our county or that we are the next hot spot. Our probable case number will have an asterisk stating that it includes antibody results and then we will have a section stating the number of positive antibody cases. We strive to be transparent and show a very clear picture of what is actually happening in our county.”
Brewster talked about the benefits of having an antibody test. According to a post on the Health District’s Facebook page, private insurance companies are required to cover the cost of this test. If an insurance company refuses or if you do not have insurance, it should be covered by the federal CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act).
Brewster said that one benefit of antibody testing is that people who have recovered from COVID-19 may be eligible to donate their plasma (liquid part of the blood) to help other COVID-19 patients.
“If a person tested positive, their plasma now contains COVID-19 antibodies and could be used to treat others who are infected and boost their ability to fight the virus,” said Brewster.
“Antibody testing is also the only way to get accurate fatality and infection rates. The more cases that are identified through antibody testing, the lower those rates become.”
Since the first round of antibody testing was completed with the earliest symptom onset date being November, that result may potentially help explain some of the unidentified illnesses in the area during the past months.
“We can use these positive results to help determine how long the virus has actually been in our county using epidemiological questioning and medical history,” said Brewster. “We already know there are reports of positive antibody cases in several other Ohio counties that have been traced back to mid-December. It will be very interesting and helpful to know if the virus was in Pike County in November, December, or January.”
Brewster said the health district will be offering another testing date during the month of July and will continue to offer testing dates as long as there is interest.
For more information on testing, or to sign up for a future test, call the Pike County General Health District at (740) 947-7721 or visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Pike-County-General-Health-District-177816679077330/