One of the first patients in T&T to recover from COVID-19 has developed antibodies that could help prevent reinfection, tests at a private medical laboratory have confirmed.
The patient, a woman, requested an antibody blood test after being released from hospital, according to the director of the lab that processed the test.
She is likely one of the few people in this country who has a laboratory-detected presence of the COVID-19 antibody.
Director at Victoria Laboratories Limited, Neil Ajodha, told the Guardian the woman was among the 115 people who had a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.
He declined to disclose additional details to avoid breaching patient confidentiality. He said the patient was interested in knowing whether she developed a possible defence against the disease.
He also revealed that a second person paid to have the test done, but no antibodies were found.
“Not many people have expressed interest in this kind of testing,” he said during the telephone interview.
But he remained hopeful this aspect of his business will pick up soon. As an advance investment, he ordered more than 400 antibody tests weeks ago.
Each test will cost a patient $300.
“That’s the direction people should be looking at,” Ajodha said.
Antibodies are soldiers on standby ready to battle any recurrence of an infection the body has experienced before. These special proteins are produced by white blood cells to stop the intrusion of a foreign toxin or antigen, such as the novel coronavirus.
Scientists in countries such as the United States hope antibody testing could determine which people have an immune system shield that would let them get back to work. These tests could also provide a clearer picture of infection rates, since they would help identify asymptomatic carriers.
But with research into COVID-19 still in the embryonic stages, there is no guarantee that someone who develops antibodies is completely immune to future infection. Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation’s Dr. Maria van Kerkhove warned, “Right now, we have no evidence that the use of a serological test (a blood test to detect antibodies) can show that an individual has immunity or is protected from reinfection.”
There have also been concerns about the accuracy of such tests. Some test kits, including more than one million rapid tests imported by India from China, have proven to be faulty.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Roshan Parasram said during the daily government briefing yesterday, the Pan American Health Organisation still has not approved any antibody tests. He warned about possible false positive and false negative results.
Ajodha said his lab offers a blood test currently used in the UK and Germany.
The Guardian spoke to managers at three other laboratories who said they are also offering antibody testing
The medical microbiologist at a laboratory in San Fernando said six people have paid for antibody tests through his company, including someone who recently returned to T&T and a doctor at a public hospital.
All six tests came back negative.
None of them had been diagnosed with COVID-19, he said, but they wanted to see if they were unknowingly infected.
“Patients must pay $450 for his finger-prick rapid tests. They are made by US-based commercial manufacturer, Biomedomics. The company’s website says the Food and Drug Administration in the US has authorised testing at the point of care but has not reviewed this specific test.
Still, this lab technician expects higher demand for his tests.
“Sooner or later they will come down for antibody testing, “ he predicted. “I think people will come in just to see, to do the antibody tests and I think they should do that to see whether people who were in contact with the virus have been able to overcome it but are still carriers.”
Two other lab directors in central and east Trinidad said they both offer the tests, but were hesitant to give further details.