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Serology tests help doctors determine previous COVID-19 exposure

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KWWL) - Serology testing can provide doctors a glimpse of the past to detect if a person previously had coronavirus and recovered.

Dr. Bobby Koneru, Medical Liaison for Dubuque County Public Health, said serology tests can help epidemiologists determine where a previous community spread took place.

"If we find that a certain population has really been exposed to a virus, such as if 40 to 50 percent of that population has already been infected, then that may redirect us as to how we proceed," said Dr. Koneru.

Doctors use a blood sample and examine the amount of antibodies. If a sample contains proteins that were used to resist a virus, then it could suggest a previous expsore.

Dr. Caitlin Pedati, State Epidemiologist for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said they can use these antibodies to determine if an individual was previously exposed to COVID-19.

"These antibodies are what white blood cells form in response to a variety of different bacteria and viruses," said Dr. Pedati. "So when our body is exposed to something new, our bod will start to make these in a general way. But then they start to make more specific antibodies that are specific to a virus or antibody themselves."

However, Dr. Koneru said there has not been enough research to determine how the antibodies will respond to coronavirus if there is a second exposure.

"We're still trying to understand what it means if someone has antibodies," said Dr. Koneru. "So there's no guarantee at this point, just because of the knowledge we have, to be able to say for sure, 'Hey, I had COVID-19 before so I'm guaranteed immunity for X amount of time.'"

Serology tests are available to the general public without the need for a doctor's recommendation. Hospitals can conduct the test for $30.

Results are usually available within 24-48 hours after taking the test.

Ashley Scott

Reporter, Dubuque

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