New Mexico health officials question the usefulness of antibody testing

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico health officials are now questioning the usefulness of antibody testing. KRQE News 13 spoke with Dr. David Scrase of the Human Services Department, who’s helping guide New Mexico through the coronavirus pandemic.

State health officials were hoping the antibody test would provide key information to safely reopen the economy. However, Dr. Scrase said currently, there are still more questions than answers.

“I think this was something that was rushed to the market,” said Dr. Scrase. “I really worry that consumers and your listeners will spend $50 or $100 dollars for something that really doesn’t give them any more real information, and in particular knowing whether you have COVID antibodies or not – does not change anything that you would do, or should do right now.”

The state health department does endorse testing at certain places like TriCore and Quest laboratories. Dr. Scrase said those tests have proven to be accurate, whereas some mail-order tests on the market are not approved by the FDA and results cannot be tracked by the state.

An antibody test is different than a diagnostic test. It’s a quick blood draw that can show if someone previously had COVID-19 and didn’t know it.

Health departments hope to use the information from antibody testing to get a better picture of how the virus has spread through communities.

Part of the problem, Dr. Scrase explained, is that doctors still don’t know whether having antibodies makes you immune to COVID-19, and if so, for how long.

“We know in mumps, those antibodies aren’t generally protective, we also don’t know how long it lasts,” explained Dr. Scrase. “So like with influenza, we all get a little protection from influenza, but that wears off over time which is why we all have to have an influenza vaccine pretty much every year.”

Labs like TriCore and Quest are taking antibody tests for those with a doctor’s referral, otherwise, you can pay for and order the test. Those labs have disclaimers on their website that antibody test results should not be used to make decisions like return to work policies or any decreased need for protective equipment.

Dr. Scrase said it’s possible New Mexico will do more antibody testing in certain parts of the state, but they need more reliable tests first. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies, Dr. Scrase says, should still follow state health guidelines including hand washing, wearing a mask in public, and social distancing.

New Mexico Coronavirus Resources

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