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All about antibody testing: The Blood Center offers free testing incentive

LULING — A free antibody test incentive led to an unprecedented turnout at a recent St. Charles Parish blood drive. More than 50 people were turned away after capacity was met only 30 minutes after doors opened.

The immense response led organizers to set up two additional blood drive dates for Aug. 10 and Aug. 24 at the Edward A Dufresne Community Center in Luling.

It also revealed heightened community interest in antibody testing, which determines if an individual’s immune system has created antibodies while fighting a COVID-19 infection. The presence of antibodies indicates an individual has been infected with COVID-19 in the past.

Since there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, health officials cannot confirm at this time if antibodies provide immunity or protection from future infection.

According to a statement from The Blood Center, “While the antibody testing is a step in the right direction, people should continue to follow CDC guidelines, including social distancing, wearing a mask in public and good hand hygiene practices.”

Individuals with a negative antibody test have not been infected by COVID-19 or developed antibodies in response to the virus.

Free COVID-19 antibody testing will also be offered at St. John the Baptist Parish blood drives. A blood drive will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, located at 529 W. Fifth St. in LaPlace. Donors will also receive a black and gold T-shirt. Another blood drive will be held on Aug. 30 at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic School in LaPlace, located at 1809 Greenwood Drive.

Rose Lodrigues, donor recruitment representative for The Blood Center’s River Region territory, said the antibody testing will be offered indefinitely.

During a donation, a small amount of blood will be collected and separately tested for COVID-19 antibodies. All participating donors are notified by email of results.

“We’re having a great turnout with the antibody testing because it is free of charge with your blood donations,” Lodrigues said. “We’re getting great turnouts with the mobile drives, and donors are still going to our various donor centers. The need is still there and the community is coming out, so that is a great thing.”

Earlier this summer, The Blood Center sent out an urgent call for donations as elective surgeries returned to hospitals. Throughout the pandemic, the need for blood has never disappeared.

“Every day, we need blood. The surgeries are coming back. The heart patients and cancer patients are there still. They’ve never gone away,” Lodrigues said.

As always, donors are encouraged to eat a healthy meal and drink water prior to donating. A picture ID is required.

Antibody vs. Diagnostic Testing

Mary Ellen Pratt, CEO of St. James Parish Hospital, released information about the differences between antibody testing and diagnostic testing.

She said the antibody test is not intended to diagnose recent or active infections, and it cannot pinpoint the date of COVID-19 exposure. Antibodies may take seven to 10 days to develop after a viral exposure.

“Antibody testing was initially developed by the CDC for two reasons,” Pratt said. “Testing can help evaluate the overall impact of the pandemic by estimating the total number of people who were infected. It is also a way to evaluate the performance and accuracy of diagnostic tests.”

Diagnostic testing, conducted via a nasal or throat swab, detects viral genetic material to determine whether an individual has an active infection.

Those who are showing COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, coughing, chills or headache need a diagnostic swab test to confirm whether they have an active infection and need to self-quarantine.

People exhibiting fever or cold/allergy symptoms will not be able to donate blood and receive the antibody testing.

Antibody testing should not be confused with antigen testing, which is a type of diagnostic test designed for rapid detection of COVID-19.

Positive results from antigen tests are highly accurate, according to the Food and Drug Administration. However, they have a higher chance of producing false negative results when compared to lab-based molecular testing, which is more accurate but may take more time to yield results. Lab-based molecular testing may take anywhere from 24 hours to one week to confirm.

“If you get a positive or negative result from a lab-based test like those currently administered through the hospital and its clinics, you can trust that result,” Pratt said.

Diagnostic COVID-19 testing is still being offered at St. James Parish Hospital.

Diagnostic tests are still offered at three St. John Parish sites: Teche Action Clinic- Edgard, Teche Action Clinic – Reserve and The Urgent Care of LaPlace.

The Urgent Care of LaPlace also offers antibody testing.

More information on St. John Parish testing sites can be found online at http://ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/3934.