On Monday, Aug. 31, Blount Memorial Hospital begins offering antibody testing to the community.
The tests, which can tell individuals if they have had exposure to COVID-19, are available with a physician order at the Blount Memorial Hospital laboratory, as well as the laboratory at East Tennessee Medical Group in Alcoa.
Those interested in having the antibody test can call their primary care physician’s office to generate the physician order. The test, itself, is a simple blood draw that does not require individuals to be fasting, and results are typically available from your physician within three to five days.
“We are excited to begin offering this diagnostic test to members of our community,” said Blount Memorial Hospital chief medical officer Dr. Harold Naramore. “We have had so many of our patients interested in this test. However, early on, the antibody tests that were being discussed didn’t have the reliability that they needed for them to make most health care institutions, including ours, feel comfortable about their benefit.”
Naramore said hospital officials waited and watched for new developments, and in July, its laboratory began doing initial validation testing on its newest lab test.
“The antibody test that we’re now able to provide to our community is confirmed to be 100 percent sensitive and 99.6 percent specific,” he explained, emphasizing that sensitivity is the ability of the test to correctly identify those with the disease and that specific is the ability of the test to correctly identify those without the disease.
“We feel this is a very accurate and reliable test,” Naramore said. “If you return a positive result from the antibody test, it means that you have had exposure to coronavirus.” Naramore said there are still some questions, though, that current research can’t tell us about those individuals who return a positive result.
“Generally in medicine, if you have the antibody, it’s a general marker of immunity,” Naramore said, adding that this virus is unlike most viruses. “However, we don’t know yet how much of the antibody your blood has or how much is throughout your body. We also aren’t sure how long the detected antibody – or protection – may last. Those things are key in helping us to determine, scientifically, a person’s immunity to the virus.”
Having the test is something that continues to prove beneficial for individuals, though, as it helps doctors and providers advise patients on any potential exposures and overall health concerns, Naramore said. “While the test results may not give us all the information we want, it gives us quite a bit.”
Another benefit of knowing whether an individual has antibodies or not is if antibodies are present, individuals may be eligible to donate convalescent plasma, which is used in the treatment of some of the sickest patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19.
“If you are identified as having antibodies – or if you’ve already recovered from a confirmed case of COVID-19 – then we encourage you to consider donating plasma through MEDIC Regional Blood Center,” Naramore said. “MEDIC supplies our hospital and our patients with convalescent plasma, but it also has to help meet the demand of all the hospitals in our region. We want to help support and encourage donation, as we want to continue to ensure that this treatment option is available to any patient in our area who could benefit from it. We have seen the impact this treatment therapy can make, as we’ve had several patients who were able to return home to their families when it was used as part of their treatment for COVID-19.”
He also knows that for some patients, knowing whether they’ve had an exposure to the virus or not is simply a point of curiosity.
“We had a fairly heavy flu and respiratory illness season last winter, and many individuals who had symptoms that have now been identified as symptoms of coronavirus have the lingering thought that maybe they had it before it really started being talked about in the United States. This test is able to tell you if you’ve had it at some point, whether you knew it or not.”
Naramore said that before being available to the public and patients of the Blount Memorial Physicians Group, the antibody test was offered to the hospital’s workforce.
While most insurances cover the cost of the test, hospital officials encourage individuals to check their specific insurance plan for coverage specifics. For those who do not have insurance, the cost of the test is $41.25.