Published on April 27, 2020

Essentia Health launches serology testing

Essentia Health has begun serology testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Friday, April 24, 2020 serology testing is available at Essentia Health. These tests will be sent to Mayo Clinic Laboratories for processing. Work is being done to also have processing capacity within an Essentia Health lab within the next couple of months.

Dr. Elena Rodgers-Rieger, Essentia Health physician chair of lab medicine and pathology explains, serology testing is “a blood-based test that looks for the presence of antibodies, which are produced by the immune system in response to infections.” Antibodies can be detected approximately eight to 11 days post-symptom onset for many patients, with the vast majority of patients have detectable antibodies at day 14. This test could be helpful in determining if a patient has had recent or prior infection with SARS-CoV-2, the causative virus of COVID-19.

“It’s very important that everyone understand this test does not currently tell us anything reliable about a person’s overall immunity from COVID-19,” said Dr. Amanda Noska, an Essentia Health infectious disease physician. “We should not assume that a positive antibody test means the person is immune to COVID-19 based on the available data out there today.” Dr. Rodgers-Rieger adds, “the medical community will gain more insight on the utility of this testing in the upcoming months.”

According to Dr. Rodgers-Rieger: “The medical community will gain more insight on the utility of this testing in the upcoming months.”

Serology testing is only for detecting antibodies to the virus. For symptomatic patients, diagnostic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is recommended. The serology test is not recommended for determining return to work status at this time.

Dr. Noska added that, while not diagnostic, these tests are beneficial and have specific uses. For example, they can determine “if a patient has recovered from COVID-19, and they do tell us more about the community prevalence, which is very valuable. The test may also be useful to identify convalescent plasma donors who have recovered from COVID-19, or for an immune response among immunocompromised hosts.”

Patients first schedule a virtual video visit with their provider to determine if an order for a blood draw for the test should be placed. When results are back, the doctor who ordered the test provides an interpretation of what the results mean given their specific scenario.

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