CLAREMONT — A new test designed to help health experts in the identification of previously exposed individuals who may have developed immunity to the novel coronavirus was unveiled at Keady Family Practice Monday morning.
In partnership with Quest Diagnostics, the SARS-CoV-2 Antibody test offered at the Claremont clinic is able to better assess how many people have contracted COVID-19 by locating antibodies associated with the virus.
The test will also be useful in identifying recovered patients who can donate their antibody-rich blood, known as convalescent plasma, to potentially save other patients with severe COVID-19.
An issue at the moment is being able to get results back at a rapid and efficient rate. Currently, tests that are used to detect the presence of coronavirus in the body — such as the nasal swab — take upwards of five or more days to get back results, whereas the antibody test can do so in three days. This time frame is crucial for all patients, especially the limited number of health workers who need to be back in the field.
“Right now these workers are out of work waiting for results. This is not good for this area in particular as we have such a big shortage of health care workers,” said Jim Keady, co-owner and operations manager at Keady Family Practice. “I have talked to many directors and found it’s not uncommon to have 10-12 [staff members] out in any given week because they are exhibiting symptoms.
There are two types of these Y-shaped proteins — immunoglobulin G (IgG) and immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies. Their presence in the blood depends on the stage the patient is at in their infection. The antibody test works by examining IgG antibodies, which appear as the body clears the infection. These antibodies also provide long-term protection against the disease, although studies on how long they last for the novel coronavirus is yet to be determined.
There are no restrictions for the antibody test. However, since the process to develop antibodies to the disease usually takes at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms, blood tests before that time won’t necessarily produce accurate results.
Although antibody testing specifically for COVID-19, also referred to as serology testing, remains in the early stages of development, public health officials have indicated that it could play a significant role in the local, regional, national and global response to coronavirus. The results of these tests could inform doctors and scientists on the frontlines about herd immunity and the true infection rates of certain areas as researchers have said many people are asymptomatic — or didn't know they were infected.
The antibody test is available to all people. For more information about either the coronavirus testing service or scheduling a regular appointment, call the clinic at (603) 863-7777 or visit their website at kfpmed.com. Keady is a family-owned walk-in clinic with hours of operation Monday through Saturday.
Plans hinge on availability of resources
The antibody test isn’t the only weapon personnel at Keady Family Practice have in their arsenal to help fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As the novel coronavirus began to spread in and throughout the U.S., personnel at Keady Family Practice were devising ways to help maximize their local and regional impact on the situation. Unknown to them, the most promising weapon was waiting in storage in the basement of their Newport facility.
First acquired three or four years ago for the purpose of testing for influenza, the facility is in the possession of three Abbott ID NOW analyzer machines that are capable of delivering positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 15 minutes, according to Jim.
However, due to federal and state restrictions on the reagent necessary for the lightweight boxes to function, the machines sit in the corner until such material can be acquired.
Unlike the antibody test, the machines can detect whether a person is currently infected rather than after the fact. This information is crucial when determining whether a health care worker or senior living facility member is safe to return without putting their life or the lives of others at further risk.
“It could be catastrophic for a nursing home if they don’t know for a week that someone has coronavirus. So these machines are so crucial to being able to stop the spread of the virus. And we are prepared to do that,” he said.
Jim said he has called and begged state leaders for the reagent but to no avail. The state currently has 24 boxes of reagent for these machines, according to Jim, but where specifically they are being used has yet to be seen.
“For us to test I think we are going to understand how significant the impact of this disease has been on the community and how long it has been around,” said Cecilia Keady, co-owner and provider at Keady Family Practice.
The facility has also been in communication with the laboratory director for the state of New Hampshire to request permission to test at nursing homes using an RV, two tents and two machines to test anyone who is symptomatic, including employees, but has received the same response for the time being.
“If you don’t have the quick test you can’t send people back to work if they are symptomatic or they had exposure. So the quick test I think is the solution, especially for health care workers who need to be at work,” Jim said. “That is what we are challenged with right now. We have these three machines and the state only has 15 for the whole entire state. We are prepared to be able to get first responders and health care workers right back to work.”