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3News Investigates: Can COVID-19 antibody tests guarantee immunity?

As antibody tests becomes available to the general public, doctors are urging caution that these tests have limits, especially when it comes to immunity.

CLEVELAND — Antibody testing can help us better understand the virus's reach in Ohio.

But as antibody testing becomes available to the general public, doctors are urging caution.

As 3News Investigator Rachel Polansky uncovered, these tests have limits, especially when it comes to immunity.

“I am enthusiastic about the blood test I just don't want to oversell it until there more data and more guidelines,” said Keith Armitage, MD, University Hospitals.

These tests look for antibodies we naturally produce to fight off viruses.  If they detect specific antibodies in our blood, we've likely been infected, at some point, by COVID-19.

Tests have been widely used on sample groups across the country – most recently by Major League Baseball -- to establish a baseline for the virus's reach.

Results have shown the virus is far more prevalent than we knew. Many of us were asymptomatic, meaning we had the virus and didn't even know it.

Our curiosity about antibody testing led to 12 tests being rushed to the market, approved for 'Emergency Use' by the FDA.

Click here for a list of those 12 tests. 

For $119 dollars, anyone can have their blood tested for antibodies at a Quest Diagnostics laboratory.

But is it worth it?

“At the end of the day, the result doesn't necessarily mean anything,” said Kamran Kadkhoda, PhD, Cleveland Clinic.

Cleveland Clinic's medical director of immune pathology said the tests are far from perfect, and they can create a false sense of security.

“There are some serological tests out there that are just outright not good, terrible rather, some are much better than others…but at the end of the day even the best one falls short for diagnostic purposes,” said Dr. Kadkhoda.

Common infections cause your body to produce enough antibodies to make you immune to a second infection.

But as we know, COVID-19 is not ordinary.

Remember, it's a novel Coronavirus. So, scientists simply do not know for sure if we can get infected a second time.

“And so what we don't want to happen is people are getting antibody testing and then not take precautions. I think even if you have an antibody test, you should take precautions until we know for sure,” said Dr. Armitage.

Meanwhile, University Hospitals and MetroHealth are testing frontline caregivers and first responders for these antibodies. Cleveland Clinic is not.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) will also be voluntarily testing 1,200 Ohioans for antibodies. An ODH spokesperson tells 3News Investigates that the households chosen at random will get a postcard sometime this week. Households can also decline to participate. Click here to learn more about that testing.

Click here for our coronavirus section

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