Boris Johnson has described coronavirus antibody tests as potentially being “game changing” in the fight against the pandemic.
Antibodies are proteins released by the immune system in response to an infection. Once the infection has passed, memory antibodies circulate at low levels in the bloodstream.
If the immune system picks up on the same infection, it ramps up production of memory antibodies, preventing the virus or bacterium from taking hold again.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has said an accurate antibody test could be an “important milestone”, allowing people who have overcome the coronavirus to go back to their normal routine, without having to maintain social distancing.
Experts have stressed, however, we do know to what extent antibodies protect against the coronavirus or how long immunity may last.
A study review into trials assessing coronavirus antibody tests concluded many were small and of dubious quality.
For now, antibody testing may be a “nice to know” for people who are wondering whether they had the infection but no symptoms.