Does My Child Need an Antibody Test?
All that most of us want right now is assurance that our child doesn’t have COVID-19 or some evidence that they had it before and are now immune.
But how do we find out for sure?
For now, the most accurate way for hospitals to diagnose the COVID-19 infection is through PCR tests. These tests detect the virus itself through the nose.
By now you may have seen various companies advertising antibody tests as another way to diagnose whether a person is immune to COVID-19 disease.
Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s, said after thorough research, including review with national experts, she believes these antibody tests are not helpful in diagnosing a history of COVID-19 disease.
The main reason is because the tests aren’t accurate. Regardless of whether you’ve had COVID-19 or not, the test can be positive from old, mild coronavirus infections (a false positive) or can be negative even after true COVID-19 infection(a false negative). On May 6, the FDA increased oversight of new antibody testing as it became more clear that inaccurate tests were being offered to patients.
"Relying on an inaccurate test can present several problems,” Dr. Whitworth said. “Making decisions based on a false positive test creates real safety concerns for the patient and their contacts. Those with a positive test might feel safe and stop social distancing, when in fact they’ve never had COVID infection and could easily become infected and transmit the virus to others. A false negative test would encourage someone to continue social distancing—which they should already be doing.
Even when the result is positive after a true infection, it’s not clear which antibodies or which level of antibodies will actually provide immunity and protect you--so even an accurate test does not guarantee ongoing immunity.
So while we wait for more accurate testing or a vaccine, the best defense against COVID-19 is taking all necessary precautions against the virus.
- Children over 2 should wear cloth masks covering their faces while out in public. Unless they are alone or with family, in an enclosed area, or eating, a mask should cover the nose and mouth.
- Practice social distancing and stay at least 6 feet apart while outside of the home.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often as needed.
- Never touch your face.
- Conduct frequent disinfecting of your home.
- Please stay at home if you do not feel well. Dr. Whitworth says this is something we cannot stress enough.