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How reliable are COVID-19 antibody tests?

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about antibodies and antibody testing. But what are antibodies, and what do they do? 10TV went to the experts to find out.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As we make our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been several stories and social media posts about antibodies, including celebrities who have been diagnosed with COVID19.

Madonna shared a video, saying she tested positive for antibodies, and actor Tom Hanks shared photos of plasma he was donating, in hopes of finding a vaccine for the coronavirus. What are antibodies, and what do they do?

Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, Chief Quality and Patient Safety Officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center breaks it down for us. "Your body's immunity, the way that it works," he explained, "is by creating things that could potentially fight off an infection."

Basically, if your body is exposed to a virus, it creates proteins to help fight off infection. "Think about chicken pox," said Dr. Gonsenhauser. "There are lasting immunologic products that we can test for, and that's what an antibody test does."

Independent laboratories, like Quest Diagnostics, are offering COVID-19 antibody tests, not to determine if people have the virus, but if they've had it in the past. Many people have posted to social media saying they experienced coronavirus-like symptoms as early as January of this year.

10 This Morning anchor Pete Scalia was curious to know if his flu-like symptoms, for which he tested negative for influenza type A and type B, could've been COVID-19. (You can watch the video to see his results.)

Dr. Gonsenhauser says most of the testing that's available right now is somewhat unreliable. The problem, he says, is that we don't know how soon COVID antibodies develop, or how long they stay in your system once you've had the virus. "We haven't had enough time to study the after-effects of COVID to know how to properly interpret antibody testing," he said. "We're concerned that you could potentially have a false sense of security from some of the commercially available tests."

Researchers at the OSU Wexner Medical Center are working on a reliable antibody test. "We're working diligently, around the clock, to make sure that, when we make a test available, it's going to be a reliable test," says Dr. Gonsenhauser, "and that people can count on us." Researchers are hoping that more antibody studies will eventually help them develop some sort of vaccine for the virus.

Remember you can get the latest coronavirus updates by visiting 10TV.com/coronavirus.

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