Italy begins nationwide blood tests to study coronavirus antibodies

Italy begins nationwide blood tests to study coronavirus antibodies
Collecting blood for a coronavirus antibody test at a hospital lab in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
Italy will carry out 150,000 blood tests for antibodies to the new coronavirus in a bid to learn about people who may have recovered from the virus without ever realizing they had it.

From May 25th, the Italian Red Cross will contact potential participants from around Italy to invite them to submit to a voluntary blood test.

The sample has been selected from 2,000 different municipalities with a mix of women and men, age ranges and professions.

The goal is to collect data on how the coronavirus has moved through the population of Italy – especially in cases with mild or no symptoms, which are estimated to make up around 80 percent of all infections.

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Test results will appear anonymously in the study, which is being carried out by the Red Cross on behalf of Italy's Ministry of Health and the Istat national statistics office.

But people who test positive for antibodies in their blood will be alerted by their local health authority and given a nasal swab to check whether they currently have the coronavirus, during which time they'll have to self-isolate as a precaution.

Swabs collect molecules from nasal secretions that are tested to determine whether a person currently has the virus, while blood tests look for the presence of antibodies in blood serum which indicate the person has been exposed to the virus and has some level of immunity.

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Some hope that antibody tests could provide a way of certifying who is no longer at risk of spreading the virus, thus providing a safe route out of lockdown.

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But it is not known for how long immunity to coronavirus lasts, meaning that those deemed “immune” could be re-infected and pass along the virus to others.

Experts believe at least 60 to 70 percent of a population would need to be immune to the virus in order to gradually wipe it out.


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