Let’s just agree… This year is a wild ride! If you had told me last year this time, that we’d be wearing masks in public daily, I would have just laughed it off. But here we are and it is not only masks and sanitizers that entered our daily vocabulary. Last week, Clicks pharmacy group opened their Covid-19 antibodies test to the public and I promptly made an appointment to go.
What exactly is a C-19 antibodies test?
First off, an antibodies test is not the same as a Covid test. If you think that you might have Covid-19, you will need to go for a PCR test (nasal swab). These tests use a polymerase chain reaction to determine if viral genetic material is present. In other words, if you test positive for Covid-19, the PCR test would have detected the genes of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in your system.
The antibodies test (blood test), on the other hand, does not detect the presence of the coronavirus. It rather detects the proteins (antibodies) that our immune systems produce in response to SARS-CoV-2. Not a lot is yet known about the longevity of these antibodies. While we do know that they appear between five to seven days after infection, scientists are not sure how long they will remain present in our system, granting immunity.
In fact, BBC reports a rapid drop (26%) in people testing positive for antibodies between June and September. They fear that immunity might be fading and that there will therefore be a risk of catching the virus multiple times. They also report that antibodies among healthcare workers remained relatively high which the researchers suggest may be due to regular exposure to the virus.
Deciding to go for the test
Now, I know that I haven’t really spoken too positively about the test thus far. So you might be thinking, why waste the R200 to go through the process? There were quite a few considerations I had before making the appointment. Despite the inherent risks involved with visiting a clinic, there are almost no other risks involved with determining if you currently have antibodies.
According to Healthline; the test is recommended for persons who have Covid-19 symptoms but do not have immediate access to a Covid-19 PCR test. It is not recommended as a diagnostic tool. The information can, of course, be used by healthcare professionals to determine the broader immunity of the country or a specific region.
For me, the decision was made without really any scientific backing. As soon as I read that these tests were available I immediately wanted to go. During the course of the year, I’ve felt so powerless and uncertain. Every time I’ve had a bit of a sore throat or fatigue, I feared the worst. Initially, as a healthy 20-something, I would never even have been considered for a PCR test, even if I did become ill.
I really saw this as an opportunity to at least get some info on the process to be able to use it in my own strategy against the virus. I reckoned that if I had antibodies present and have not been violently ill, I can confidently keep up my exercise and vitamin regime and if I had no antibodies present, I will take it as motivation to once again tighten the reins, diligently wear a mask, stay home and sanitize regularly.
How the test is administered
Like I’ve mentioned, I visited my local Clicks clinic for the test. You need to phone beforehand and make an appointment. The entire test takes about ten minutes and I was helped by a great nurse, willing to talk me through the entire process.
There is obviously quite some paperwork to go through before they are able to administer the test. Except for a declaration of health, you have to also agree to make the results available to the National Health Database. These tests are also not covered by most medical aids.
The test looks exactly the same as an HIV test. It is a small white device, but unlike the HIV test, it already has a blue line present. You then get a finger prick, whereafter a drop of blood is added to the device. A carrier fluid is then applied, to drive the blood through the device. If you have antibodies present a second red line will appear, if not just the blue line will remain. The results are immediate and you will know before going home. As mentioned, the test costs R200 at Clicks Clinics.