Published On: Sat, Apr 18th, 2020

Coronavirus warning: WHO warns ‘no evidence’ people who survive COVID-19 develop immunity | World | News

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WHO chiefs have warned world leaders that investing heavily in antibody tests may not be the answer, as they say there is no proof those who have been infected with coronavirus cannot be infected again. The UK has already purchased 3.5million serology tests, which measure antibodies in blood plasma to indicate whether a person has already had COVID-19.

Many tests being developed around the world are pin-prick blood tests similar to widely used instant HIV tests.

Such tests measure for raised levels of the antibodies the body uses to fight the virus.

But Dr Maria van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist based at the WHO, said: “There are a lot of countries that are suggesting using rapid diagnostic serological tests to be able to capture what they think will be a measure of immunity.

“Right now, we have no evidence that the use of a serological test can show that an individual has immunity or is protected from reinfection.”

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She added: “These antibody tests will be able to measure that level of seroprevalence – that level of antibodies but that does not mean that somebody with antibodies means that they are immune.”

But she conceded it was a good thing that so many tests were being developed.

Her colleague Dr Michael Ryan said the antibody tests could pose problems if someone finds they have had the virus and assumes they are now immune.

He said: “There are serious ethical issues around the use of such an approach and we need to address it very carefully, we also need to look at the length of protection that antibodies might give.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also announced the UK Government is considering an “immune certificate” system, to allow those who qualify to “get back as much as possible to normal life”.

He added: “That is an important thing that we will be doing and are looking at, but it’s too early in the science to be able to put clarity around that.”

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche said it has developed an antibody test that it hopes to roll out in May.

The firm say the test will be able to detect people previously infected with COVID-19, even those who displayed no symptoms.

But Dr Ryan warns those who have already had the virus could be at risk of being reinfected.

He said: “Nobody is sure whether someone with antibodies is fully protected against having the disease or being exposed again.

“Plus some of the tests have issues with sensitivity – they may give a false negative result.

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