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Having antibodies does not mean you're immune to COVID-19, coronavirus

Scientists say COVID-19 is a peculiar virus and there is still not enough data to determine whether folks are immune if they test positive for the virus antibodies.

MAINE, USA — Across the state, folks are testing to see if they have coronavirus antibodies. 

A positive result typically means you have been exposed to coronavirus, most likely COVID-19 as the other strains of coronavirus are less prevalent.

While experts say antibodies likely indicate you now have some protection against COVID-19, there is insufficient scientific evidence proving such.

However, the logic is: immune systems were constructed to fight viruses and the usual progression is 1) you get infected, 2) you get symptoms, 3) your immune system fights the virus, 4) symptoms go away, and 5) anti-bodies come up to be "surveillance mechanisms" so you don't get reinfected.

The problem is that it's not always a perfect science and COVID-19 has shown to be a very tricky and peculiar virus.

President of Jackson Lab Ed Liu says researchings are working diligently to learn more about what antibodies mean. 

"Everybody is working on this right now," says Liu. "The whole issue is persistence, funding, and sharing of knowledge. I know the sharing of knowledge is happening, the persistence is happening, the funding, well it has just been legislated that it should happen... we have the tools and the talent to answer those questions very very soon."

In the meantime, experts like Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah say it's too soon to assume having antibodies means you're immune to COVID-19. 

"Right now in the scientific community, there are not great answers in knowing what the value of anti-body testing is," says Shah. 

Lui agrees, "The idea that you'd use these antibody tests to decide whether or not you're immune from infection is premature."

Despite the lack of concrete information about what having antibodies means, many Mainers are getting tested.

One facility that is testing folks is American Family Care Urgent Care in South Portland. The urgent care center's medical director Dr. Andre Couture says, "People want to know if they've been exposed or not. We've had around 30-35 people come in every day."

Couture says his facility conducts the tests and then sends them to a lab for results. The lab then sends the data to the Maine CDC.  

"The labs are giving this information to the Maine CDC. They're reporting positive cases and the CDC is getting all this data from facilities that are doing it," says Couture. 

Even so, routine antibody testing is not recommended. 

Dr. Nirav Shah says, "If you're not feeling well, we recommend you get one of the more traditional COVID-19 tests. Right now, we know how to interpret those data and know what to do with them."

Whether a result is negative or positive, folks are urged to continue to take necessary health and safety precautions.

Antibody testing has not been FDA approved. However, it has been approved for "emergency use authorization" by the FDA.

Antibody testing results are typically available between 24 and 48 hours after testing.

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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