UAE private hospitals roll out antibody test for COVID-19
Two of the largest private hospital groups in the United Arab Emirates have made an FDA-authorised COVID-19 serology test available to the public.
Mediclinic Middle East and King’s College Hospital London now offer the SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies test, which is used to confirm the presence of antibodies against COVID-19 produced by the immune system. These antibodies are likely to have resulted from an infection with the coronavirus causing COVID-19.
This type of test is useful in confirming a previous diagnosis of COVID-19 that didn’t result in major symptoms, or one in those who may have suspected COVID-19 but tested negative on a standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
Said to have a 99.5% accuracy rate, the test “indicates with high certainty” that an individual has been exposed to the virus, and therefore is more likely to have immunity to the infection compared to an individual who tests negative. Whilst local authorities have previously stated that there have been no cases of reinfection in the UAE, it remains unclear whether those who recover from COVID-19 are 100% immune from being reinfected with the virus.
THE LARGER CONTEXT
While the test can offer peace of mind to individuals, it is also useful in helping businesses ensure their employees are safe as they return to their work environments.
“This test can also be used to assess if someone could be eligible for convalescent plasma donation,” added Mohamed Abdelmalek Mahmoud, Specialist Clinical Pathology at Mediclinic Al Noor Hospital. “It may be best to test individuals who need to know if they have been in contact with the virus in the past. A positive IgG [test] would confirm that they have been exposed and – if they were asymptomatic at the time of the test – that they have recovered.
“Patients who have had a positive COVID-19 swab have no need for an IgG test for confirmation. [However,] patients with a negative COVID-19 swab and persisting flu-like illness symptoms may benefit from an antibody test,” he continued. “The symptoms will have to be ongoing for a couple of weeks for the test to have a good likelihood of being positive.”
The tests offered at Mediclinic Middle East and King’s College Hospital London locations are not covered by health insurance; they are available for AED 265 (approx. $72), which excludes a mandatory doctor consultation – an additional AED 300 ($82) at King’s and AED 587 ($160) at Mediclinic.
Test results are delivered within 24-72 hours.
In calls to other hospitals and clinics in the UAE, both Medcare and Aster private hospitals and clinics confirmed that they are currently not providing the antibodies test as a paid service. Dubai Health Authority’s government hospitals and clinics also confirmed the same.
ON THE RECORD
“An antibody test can indicate current as well as past infection. The COVID-19 antibodies test is a semi-quantitative test for IgG antibodies. Unlike the PCR test which detects viral nucleic acid in the specimen, the antibody test can detect the specific COVID-19 antibodies generated in the body after infection, in response to the virus,” said Mahmoud. “Nearly all immune competent individuals will develop an immune response following COVID-19 infection.
“Two kinds of antibodies are produced by the immune system after exposure to the virus. First is the IgM antibody which is generated in the acute infection phase and can be used to detect the active phase of infection,” he continued. “The secondary response generated by IgG antibodies are more specific to the virus, and can circulate in the blood for months after recovery indicating past infection. IgG antibodies are produced once the immune system has had time to go through a selection process of clonal lymphocytes and are highly specific and have high affinity for parts of the virus. It takes usually around two weeks – minimum – for the lymphocytes to reach adequate maturity and production capacity in order to detect IgG antibodies.”