Did you have coronavirus without knowing? Scientists are developing tests to find out

Did you have coronavirus without knowing? Scientists are developing tests to find out
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Mitchell Willetts and Hayley Fowler/ Charlotte Observer) - Given that symptoms of COVID-19 can range from extreme to nonexistent, many may be left wondering if they’ve already had it, or if their turn is still to come.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible with the current testing available to tell whether someone has contracted coronavirus unless they are sick at the time, according to Axios. Once you’ve recovered, there’s no way to prove it was ever there — but scientists are developing new tests to do exactly that.

As much as 25 percent of people infected with the coronavirus may never show any symptoms, CDC director Robert Redfield told NPR.

But symptomatic or not, viruses leave a mark. When they enter the body the immune system goes to war against it, developing antibodies specially designed to kill it. These antibodies hang around in the bloodstream even after the war is won, granting immunity to that illness if it’s encountered again.

Creating a widely available ‘serological’ test — a test determining if specific antibodies are present in the blood — is one way to find out if someone had previously contracted COVID-19.

The CDC is ramping up efforts to conduct this testing, according to Vox.

Meanwhile, The Sacramento Bee reports the University of Stanford is looking to deploy a serological test of its own.

Such a test is also key to controlling large outbreaks like the U.S. is experiencing now.

For the coronavirus to be spreading the way it is, Dr. Cameron R. Wolfe, an associate professor of medicine at Duke University, told McClatchy News there must be a larger group of people with little to no symptoms who are capable of transmitting it.

“(Current figures) certainly don’t represent the full number of infections,” he said. “Without a doubt there’s a large iceberg effect here.”

That’s where antibody surveys come in.

In a random sample of 1,000 people, Wolfe said blood tests will show how many have the “antibody memory of having seen the coronavirus before.” Then scientists can look at how many of those knew they had the coronavirus, a similar illness or showed no symptoms at all.

“All of that added together is how you see the iceberg under the water,” he said.

Having those numbers becomes increasingly important as the U.S. prepares for the possibility of a second wave of the outbreak.

Scientists and public health experts need to know who was infected so they have a better understanding of what proportion of the population still needs to be vaccinated, Wolfe told McClatchy.

“Oftentimes you need to ensure that 80% of your population is well protected for a condition to burn out,” he said.