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Coronavirus antibody tests are inaccurate about half the time, the CDC says

The antibody tests we’ve all been waiting for are here. But before you start planning intimate gatherings with your pod of positives, know that these tests may not be the golden ticket to the normalcy we’re craving. According to a new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the novel coronavirus antibody tests could be wrong about half the time.

“Testing at this point might result in relatively more false positive results and fewer false negative results," the CDC said in their updated guidelines for antibody testing. Getting a false positive is a problem because this is one infectious disease test that you really want to test positive for. Currently, the COVID-19 rate for reinfection seems to be very low, but experts fear that a positive test result may give folks a false sense of security, reported CNN. "It cannot be assumed that individuals with truly positive antibody test results are protected from future infection," the CDC stated.

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The issue seems to be simply that not enough of the population has been tested for the tests to develop the accuracy required to base policies — or even personal risk assessment — on, reported CNN. Antibody tests, also called serologic tests, look for evidence of exposure to a virus within an organism, but these tests become more sophisticated with use. In kindergarten terms, the tests need to sample a lot of people’s blood in order to “learn” exactly what they’re looking for, which in this case is definite immunity. Because so few individuals have been tested, a positive test result does not necessarily guarantee immunity, reported CNN.

"Serologic test results should not be used to make decisions about grouping persons residing in or being admitted to congregate settings, such as schools, dormitories, or correctional facilities," the CDC said on their website. This doesn’t mean that the tests aren’t useful. For one thing, they can help scientists figure out with more exactitude how much of the population has been exposed to COVID-19, CNN reported. And we all need each and everyone who can to get antibody tested so that the tests can get smarter and potentially become part of the COVID-19 exit strategy we’re all so anxiously waiting for.