So the talk now is about antibodies. Specifically, the antibody to the COVID-19 virus. More specifically, the IgG antibody. If you have it that means you’ve been infected or have contracted the virus and are now presumably immune to it. You’ve come out on the other side and are good to go.
What are antibodies? Antibodies are proteins that our body produces, (specifically special white blood cells) in response to a bacterial or viral infection. Their function is to seek out a bacteria or virus that has infected the body in the past and to destroy it before it can cause harm again. They attack pathogens, germs, much in the same way a bacteria or virus attacks the body’s cell, by destroying the cell wall or the covering.
There are five different types of antibodies each of which serves a special function. IgA (saliva, mother’s breast milk), IgD (helper antibody), IgE (allergies), IgM (acute infection), IgG (long-term prevention). And they circulate in the liquid portion of the bloodstream, the plasma. But no one is much interested in any of these antibodies except for the IgG antibody.
IgG antibodies are produced by memory T-cells which are special white blood cells called lymphocytes. These memory T cells remember the details of earlier invaders and are therefore able to coordinate a swift response if the same pathogen shows up again. This is why so many diseases only make you sick once. The reason you don’t get mumps, if you’ve been infected or received the vaccine in childhood, is that your memory T-cells somewhere in your body have been protecting you (producing IgG) from a second attack for more than 30-60 years, or more, as the case may be.
The interest in whether someone has COVID-19 antibodies, especially IgG, is based on the presumption that if the IgG antibody is present that the person has a sustaining immunity from being re-infected by this particular virus. That is, if it acts like we know other pathogens and immune cells act. But the best information today is that the immunity is long-lasting for months, maybe even years. At any rate, going forward in light of the anticipated “second wave” or even a “third wave”, it is better to have it than not have it. In fact some health authorities opine that the waves will be more like a roller-coaster.
Our immune system is constantly bombarded by things it has never seen before, like constantly mutating flu viruses. It is constantly making inspections throughout our body looking for germs and other things that may harm the body, like toxins, drugs, cancers, foreign objects, and even our own state of mind. Because it is constantly on vigilance it is amazing it doesn’t make more errors than it does.
When they do occur, these errors, that is, our immune system misrecognizing an innocent cell for a pathogen, are extremely low, but they happen. When they do, we call this an “auto-immune” response, or in the case of a full-fledged condition, like systemic lupus, an autoimmune disease. About 5% of the population has some form of autoimmune disease. Interestingly, I had the privilege of taking care of an 82-year-old lady for over 20 years who had a severe case of discoid lupus, a skin lupus. She passed away six months ago from progressive dementia, but she had taken the medication hydroxychloroquine for over 30 years without a glitch. Day after day, without any side effects.
The IgG antibodies appear in the body at about the second month after an infection and generally after the IgM antibody which appears first within a month or so then disappears. The IgG antibodies when present typically confer a long-lasting immunity.
We are currently collecting (drawing blood) for COVID-19 IgG antibodies and it is tested by a commercial lab. The test is manufactured by Abbot Laboratories, (USA) and detects the presence of IgG antibodies to COVID-19, specifically the RNA genetic signature of the protein spike on the virus.
If you are interested in being tested simply call the office (388-7080) and request a time to come in for the test. The results are reported in 24-72 hours. A report on the results is generated validating that the test was performed. This may be helpful for use in employment and to be shared with your personal physician. A consultation with the physician is not necessary to obtain the test.