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University Of Pittsburgh Developing Blood Test To Determine Coronavirus Immunity

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A blood test being developed at the University of Pittsburgh could identify people who could serve on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19 with little to no risk of being infected.

According to KDKA's news partners at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, UPMC is close to developing this test.

Dr. Alan Wells, executive vice-chairman of the Section of Laboratory Medicine in the UPMC Department of Pathology told the Post-Gazette that the test being developed is based on one done in Europe to see if people were exposed and possibly immune to the virus.

Medical tests currently exist that allow for doctors to see if someone has antibodies in response to the virus, but according to Pitt, there is little guidance of what that means.

Current testing does not determine if a person is immune.

Further testing at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Vaccine Research will see if certain antibodies are the immune type that neutralize the virus.

What they hope the test does is find if someone had the virus, which would be done by finding the antibodies in their system. It could then be determined if the person had no symptoms of COVID-19 and recovered.

UPMC issued the following statement about the test being developed:

"UPMC is exploring the use of blood tests to determine if a person has antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Such a test could indicate if a person already had infection, perhaps without symptoms, and recovered. However, at present there is little guidance on what it means if someone has antibodies. These can be found in people with ongoing disease, and those who have recovered. Furthermore, the current tests do not determine if a person is immune to the disease. 

Please rest assured that we understand the value of such antibody-detection tests -- for community surveillance, epidemiological tracing and individual diagnosis, among others. These will be more valuable when we learn more about the implications of the positives.  We are working hard to find ways to make limited supplies of this test as valuable to our communities as possible.

We do not have the capabilities to test the general public at this time.  We are still determining the meaning of the tests. In addition, we expect that supplies will continue to be extremely limited. Once available, it will likely be used in conjunction with various local and national clinical trials that UPMC is organizing or participating in."

The Post-Gazette reports that the Allegheny Health Network is not working on an immunity test, but did develop rapid immune tests that work like pregnancy tests. A drop of blood can see if certain antibodies are present -- but it has its limitations at this point.

There was no timeline reported as to when UPMC's test could be finalized. UPMC says the tests will probably be used together with other local and national clinical trials.

More information on the Coronavirus pandemic:

Stay with KDKA for the latest on this developing story.

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