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Dartmouth-Hitchcock offers antibody testing

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/26/2020 9:55:17 PM
Modified: 6/26/2020 9:55:09 PM

LEBANON — Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health has begun offering testing to determine whether individuals were previously infected with COVID-19, the health system announced this week.

The antibody test, manufactured by Roche Diagnostics, could be useful in multiple ways:

■To identify patients who qualify to donate convalescent plasma to help others recover from the disease.

■To determine how prevalent the disease is in the population D-H serves.

■To satisfy patients’ curiosity about whether they’ve had COVID-19.

“Because so many commercial test kits were popping up, and urgent care facilities were offering testing and the state was recommending it, we wanted to have a method at our fingertips for when our patients and their providers would ask about it,” Dr. Antonia Altomare, a D-H hospital epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist, said in the release.

Other Upper Valley health care providers such as Lebanon’s ClearChoiceMD clinic and Keady Family Practice in Claremont began offering antibody testing through Quest Diagnostics in mid-April.

New Hampshire — in part through collaboration with ClearChoiceMD and other urgent care centers — began widespread antibody testing in May.

As of Thursday, more than 18,000 antibody tests had been conducted in the state.

Despite the popularity of the testing, some health officials have questioned its usefulness.

For example, Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine recently cautioned against the use of antibody tests, saying that he fears they may be unreliable and misleading.

On Friday, Vermont health officials said they will be watching to see what D-H is able to glean from the antibody test results.

“They appear to have a clear sense of what they can and cannot accomplish with serology testing and a high level of confidence in this particular test,” Katie Warchut, a state health department spokeswoman, said in an email. “At this point, we do not yet see value in pursuing this path in Vermont, but our working group continues to follow developments and assess options for future application.”

Jacqueline Hubbard and Robert Nerenz, assistant directors of clinical chemistry at D-H, evaluated the test on two criteria:

■Sensitivity, ability to detect antibodies in the blood after a person recovers from COVID-19 infection.

■Specificity, the ability to give a negative result in people who have not had a COVID-19 infection.

“It was important that we would get a negative result if a person had not been infected by COVID-19, and we would get a positive result if a person had been infected by COVID-19, and that positive results were caused by this particular coronavirus rather than another infectious agent,” Nerenz said in the release.

While D-H’s clinical chemists said they are confident in the Roche test’s ability to determine whether a person has developed an immune response to COVID-19, a positive result does not guarantee immunity to the disease.

“We don’t know at this point whether patients who have antibodies can get re-infected, nor how long the present antibodies last,” said Hubbard, assistant director of clinical chemistry at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in the release.

Those who test positive for antibodies still should follow social distancing precautions such as wearing masks, washing hands and staying 6 feet away from others, she said.

“People still need to follow the guidelines, such as when to return to work, etc.,” she said. “The presence or absence of antibodies doesn’t change that.”

Patients interested in getting an antibody test should discuss it first with their primary care provider, according to the release.

“If the patient wants to undergo testing and their provider is willing to place an order, then it works like any other clinical blood test,” Nerenz said.

Results can be generated within an hour of a blood sample collected at any phlebotomy station across the D-H health system arriving at DHMC, the release said.

Patients should contact their insurance companies to find out if the test is covered, D-H spokeswoman Audra Burns said in a Friday email.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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