Iowa Health Dept. expanding COVID-19 serology testing research

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QUAD CITIES, Iowa (KWQC) - The Iowa Health Dept. is increasing antibody testing to help track where COVID-19 is and where it's spreading. Gov. Kim Reynolds made the announcement Tuesday at her daily briefing.


“These antibodies are things that our white blood cells form as part of a response to a variety of bacteria and viruses,” Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the State Medical Director & Epidemiologist for the Iowa Dept. of Public Health, said.

A standard COVID-19 test involves a nose swab to see if the is present in the body. Serology testing is different. Instead, a blood sample is taken to look for antibodies in the system. The antibodies could result in the ability to fight off the virus.

“And that’s precisely how our vaccines work. By showing our bodies a small piece of something so that if we have to see, we’re able to fight it,” Dr. Pedati said.

Dr. Louis Katz, Medical Director of the Scott County Health Dept. said with the limited knowledge right now, antibody testing is only useful for qualifying plasma donors to treat other patients and for public health surveillance.

“At this point it has no place, antibody testing has no place in diagnosis. And it has no place in determining whether an individual is immune to the virus," Dr. Katz said, “I don’t want people to think that there is a test that sends them back to work or tells them that it’s safe to go visit their grandkids, because there isn’t.”

While there is still plenty to learn about COVID-19, serology testing could play a role in the longterm fight.

“We do follow up with these individuals. We’re trying to learn a little bit more about their potential exposures, a little bit more about what they do, and perhaps help us learn more if these people were to become sick again," Pedati said. “It’s going to be really important for us to better understand the kind of immunity people are developing. And also to help us understand where in our communities this virus might have been, and where it might be moving.”

Right now the state's health department is focusing serology tests on people who were previously infected and want want to donate plasma, healthcare workers, first responders, and critical infrastructure workers.

For more information on COVID-19 in Iowa, click here.