Can I get the new coronavirus antibody test? How does it work?

14 May 2020, 10:44

The new coronavirus test has been said to be 100% accurate
The new coronavirus test has been said to be 100% accurate. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

With the news that the UK now has a "game-changing" coronavirus antibody test which has been found to be 100% accurate, many people are asking what is the new test? And who can get one?

On Thursday it was announced Public Health England (PHE) had carried out an independent evaluation of a new coronavirus blood test developed by a Swiss pharmaceutical company.

The examination found the serology test from Roche's was "highly specific" and had an accuracy of 100%.

Previously Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called antibody testing a "game-changer" as it could help ease lockdown restrictions sooner.

Read more: First coronavirus antibody test approved in UK is '100% accurate'

The blood test detects antibodies in patients who have been exposed to the virus, even if they never developed symptoms. The approval means a mass NHS antibody testing program can now get underway.

But how does it work, and who can get one? Here's everything we know so far.

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What is the new test?

Pharmaceutical giant Roche has developed a test which can tell whether somebody has ever had coronavirus.

The test involves taking a small sample of blood and testing it for antibodies which will indicate exposure to coronavirus.

Public Health England (PHE) has evaluated the new Roche test and has approved it as being safe and reliable for widespread use.

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How reliable is it?

Very. The test picks up 100% of people who have had coronavirus.

This means it has 100% sensitivity.

It also has a specificity of over 99.8% - meaning it picks up virtually all people who have not had coronavirus.

A test that is 100% specific means all healthy individuals are correctly identified as healthy - there are no false positives.

What if I've never had any symptoms of Covid-19?

It doesn't matter.

Experts believe a proportion of people who have had Covid-19 never actually develop symptoms.

The new test can identify people who have had coronavirus even if they have never had any indication they are infected.

When will the UK get antibody tests? LBC asks the experts

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If the test shows I've had Covid-19, am I now immune from it?

Scientists are unsure and there is still a lot to learn about coronavirus.

Experts believe that while the presence of antibodies indicates a level of immunity, it is unclear whether people are completely protected and how long any immunity lasts.

There has been some suggestion that immunity could last for two to three years but more work needs to be done.

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Can I get the new test?

Not yet. The Government plans to first roll out the test to front-line workers such as those in health and social care.

It is hoped the test will become available to the wider public, although it is unclear whether this will be via the NHS or through commercial websites.

Roche says it will be able to provide hundreds of thousands of antibody tests to the UK every single week.