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Antibody Testing Isn't What You Think: Where, Why and Whether To Get One

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We're asking public health officials and experts to answer your questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep in mind that this information does not constitute professional medical advice. For questions regarding your own health, always consult a physician.

Testing, testing, testing. That’s the key ingredient in getting our society back to some sort of normal. As the state opens more facilities to test for COVID-19, testing for virus antibodies is also popping up in unlikely places.

Given how tough this winter's flu season has been, it's natural for many of us to wonder if we were exposed to COVID-19 and if an antibody test can tell us if we're immune. But UC San Francisco epidemiologist George Rutherford says:

"That's categorically incorrect...It can tell you you've been infected, but not that you're immune." And it will NOT tell you if you currently have COVID-19.

There are a lot of tests out there, too, and many are expensive. So buyer beware. Rutherford, a professor of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, explains that the mad rush to get antibody tests to the public has made it hard for
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the FDA to vet them all. He told us:
"Ninety test systems came on the market in one week. It was the wild west."

You can hear more of his conversation with A Martínez, who hosts our newsroom's local news show, Take Two, which airs on 89.3 KPCC:

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