COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, but most people use coronavirus and COVID-19 interchangeably. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the American Red Cross has been a nationwide leader in supporting the lifesaving efforts those battling the virus. In early spring, the Red Cross began implementing additional safety measures including taking the temperature of all potential donors and requiring that masks be worn at all donation sites by both donors and staff. In March of this year, the Red Cross also started collecting convalescent plasma from donors who had already recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection to support hospitals evaluating its use as possible treatment for critically ill coronavirus patients. At this time, the Red Cross was only testing convalescent plasma for COVID-19 antibodies. In June 2020, the Red Cross began testing tingblood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies as an additional health service to our donors.
What Is Antibody Testing?
When a person is sick, their immune system develops antibodies to the virus or pathogen causing the illness. COVID-19 antibody tests detect the presence of antibodies that may fight off SARS-CoV-2 infection. A positive antibody test result indicates that an individual may have had previous exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 and their body has developed specific antibodies to the virus. The test does not diagnose or confirm an infection with coronavirus. Tests to diagnose coronavirus infection look for the presence of viral nucleic acids and are performed by one’s health care provider. It is currently unknown whether the presence of COVID-19 antibodies provides immunity to future infection, although it has been shown to be the case with related viruses for a period of time.
The Red Cross hopes that the temporary addition of COVID-19 antibody testing will give our donors helpful information that may indicate if their immune system has produced antibodies to the coronavirus, regardless of whether they developed symptoms.
What You Should Know About Red Cross Antibody Testing
When potential donors present to Red Cross donation sites, the health and safety of the donors, volunteers, employees, and patients is our highest priority. Each collected blood donation is tested for many different infectious diseases before it can be transfused to a patient. Some of these tests are antibody tests. The COVID-19 antibody test has been added as one of these tests. Testing has become widely available and provides valuable insight into the prevalence and spread of the disease in our population. As of June 15, 2020, for a limited all blood product donations will undergo COVID-19 antibody testing for a limited time.
Results will be available seven to 10 days after the donation is completed. Donors will be able to view the results of their COVID-19 antibody test, as well as other vital signs obtained during their pre-donation screening, in both the Blood Donor App and on RedCrossBlood.org. The results of the antibody test will read either positive (COVID-19 antibodies were presumptively detected), negative (COVID-10 antibodies were presumptively not detected), or not available. Results may not be available if the sample could not be tested.
Individuals who have a positive antibody test result may be eligible to participate in the convalescent plasma donation program, though additional donor pre-qualification via the convalescent plasma donor eligibility form is needed. More information about the program and the donor eligibility form can be found here.