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Antibody tests: One in four Indians infected?

Modern microscope equipped with digital camera, computer and monitor. Antibody tests concept.
Image credit: Anna Ivanova / 123rf

More than a quarter of Indians may already have contracted COVID-19 – the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or, simply, coronavirus. This is on the basis of an analysis of antibody tests conducted by a leading private laboratory.

Dr A. Velumani, the chairman, managing Director and chief executive officer of Thyrocare Technologies, said that an analysis of 270,000 antibody tests conducted by his company indicated the level of exposure to the coronavirus among the population is 26 percent. This, he said, “is a much higher percentage than we had expected. The presence of antibodies is uniform across all age groups, including children.”

Thyrocare reportedly surveyed 600 Indian cities over the preceding seven weeks. Velumani says that the percentage of Indians with coronavirus antibodies could reach forty percent by December should current trends persist.

In an interview with Times Now Digital earlier this month, Dr Velumani outlined the importance of antibody tests. “This is a blood test, not a swab test, for understanding whether the body has circulating antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, already or not,” he said. “All recovered will have antibodies, also all infected will have. Even those who are exposed to but not had any symptoms will also have antibodies if their body was sensitive to the virus. Hence, it is an indicator of virus journey in the country, an indirect measure.”

The World Health Organization stipulates, however, that “currently, no study has evaluated whether the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 confers immunity to subsequent infection by this virus in humans. The development of antibodies to a pathogen through natural infection is a multi-step process that typically takes place over 1-2 weeks, but the process to develop a full immunologic response may be longer. 

“Most COVID-19 studies on the presence of antibodies to date show that people who have recovered from infection have antibodies to the virus. However, some of these people have very low levels of antibodies able to [neutralise the] virus in their blood.” 

In India, Dr Velumani told Times Now Digital, “anyone can go for this testing. The costs are around Rs 600 and more than 1,000 laboratories in the country are conducting the tests. You just need 2 ml blood – like thyroid test or vitamin D test – to get an antibody test and it takes three hours maximum in the laboratory to report.” 

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