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CDC Using Antibody Tests to Gauge Number of Asymptomatic Coronavirus Cases

Waiting to be tested for coronavirus, New York City, April 2, 2020 (Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has begun conducting antibody tests of three different groups to accurately measure the total number infected with coronavirus, including asymptomatic cases.

The surveys come after the Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it had authorized the first coronavirus serology test, which detects any antibodies produced by the immune system in response to the virus. The test is produced by Cellex Inc.

“Based on the totality of scientific evidence available to FDA, it is reasonable to believe that your [Cellex Inc.’s] product may be effective in diagnosing COVID-19,” the agency wrote in its authorization. “The known and potential benefits of your product when used for diagnosing COVID-19, outweigh the known and potential risks of your product.”

The CDC’s intention is to identify people who have recovered from infection and are to keep some level of protection from reinfection — important criteria for allowing people to go back to work. It is targeting people who weren’t diagnosed with coronavirus, despite living in hot spots, as well as people from other areas around the country and certain exposed groups — including health-care workers — to test the overall level of virus spread. Some epidemiologists have raised the possibility that far more people have asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 than has been recorded.

While it is unclear if those that recover from the virus will be immune, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, expressed optimism last week that he would be “willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against re-infection.”

“If this virus acts like every other virus that we know, once you get infected, get better, clear the virus, then you’ll have immunity that will protect you against re-infection,” Fauci said.

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