Coronavirus patients 'DO have antibodies – but too early to say if they can get bug twice'

CORONAVIRUS patients DO get antibodies after battling the bug, scientists think, but it's too early to say if it makes you immune.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam said today that the early evidence showed "by and large" Covid-19 sufferers are developing antibodies to the virus.

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The news will be seen as a ray of hope to Brits and scientists desperately scrambling for a vaccine.

But it's yet to be seen if the antibodies present in recovered patients protect them from re-infection, and if so for how long it will last.

The World Health Organisation still doesn't know if once you've had coronavirus you can catch it again.

Mr Van Tam said at tonight's No10 press conference: "One of the things we want to know is – when you've had Covid-19 do you get antibodies, do they protect you against further instances of the same illness, and how long are they going to protect you for?"

So far tests have shown the "overwhelming majority of people who've had definitely had the Covid-19 infection have got antibodies in their blood stream, which is a good thing," he explained.

However, it takes longer for them to show in some people than in others.

Some vaccines need regular top-ups to stay effective, and it could be the same with coronavirus.

They may last for years like other antibodies for bugs, he speculated, but "we do not know at this point."

It make take years for scientists to get enough data to say conclusively, he said.

Last night scientists at testing giant Roche Diagnostics said they had finally created a kit accurate enough to be used at scale.

And the firm says it has enough to provide the NHS with hundreds of thousands every week.

Matt Hancock tonight was cautious but optimistic about the latest developments, and promised to update the nation when it has been tested to see if it works.

No country in the world has yet developed a working antibody test which can be sent out at scale.

According to South Korea’s central clinical committee for emerging disease control, positive test results on people who had tested negative were the result of “fragments” of the virus lingering in their bodies, but with no power to make them or ill or to infect others.

A total of 277 patients appeared to have become reinfected with the illness – raising fears that mutations in the virus could prevent patients from developing immunity to it, which would complicate the task of finding a vaccine and eliminate the possibility of “herd immunity”.

Oh Myoung-don, the head of the committee, said that the later positive results were caused by shortcomings in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that detects the virus’s genetic information, or RNA, in samples taken from patients.

The test is unable to differentiate between “live” RNA and harmless traces that can remain in the body of someone who has fully recovered.

Britain and other countries have discussed the idea of immunity passports or certificates which can be handed out if someone's had the bug.

But they won't be able to do that until they can show that there is enough evidence someone infected had enough antibodies to make sure you can't catch it again.

The news came as Hancock today urged people on the Isle of Wight to download a new app to track and trace coronavirus – and he vowed they would lead the way in the fight against the killer bug.

The Health Secretary confirmed that the pilot of the NHS app to track people with the bug would go live tomorrow for healthcare workers.


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