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Health Canada approves serological test to detect COVID-19 antibodies

Last Updated May 13, 2020 at 7:26 am PST

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, orange, emerging from the surface of cells, gray, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID-RML via AP

The first serological test for COVID-19 has been approved for use in Canada

At least one million Canadian blood samples will be collected and tested over the next two years to track the virus

New test will detect COVID-19 antibodies, help contribute to better understanding of who's immune to COVID-19

OTTAWA — It’s a big step towards figuring out who in the country may be immune to COVID-19.

Health Canada has approved the first COVID-19 serological test for use in the country to detect antibodies specific to the virus. DiaSorin, an Italian multinational biotechnology company, developed the LIAISON test that was also recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It comes as B.C.’s top doctor announced that people can now volunteer for serology testing in the province.

In a statement Tuesday, Health Canada says the test will be used in Canadian laboratories to detect COVID-19 antibodies and help better understand whether people who have been infected are immune to the virus. Further research will also help to understand the relationship between positive antibody tests and protection against reinfection.

“The ‘have I ever been infected with COVID-19?’ question is an extremely important question,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist out of Toronto General Hospital, tells NEWS 1130.

“Most people, I think, in the medical and scientific community believe that if someone’s had the infection and they recover from this infection they probably have some degree of immunity for some period of time.”

Bogosh says serology testing will also help determine what proportion of the population have had the virus and the data will help drive vaccine research. But there’s one key question it won’t answer.

“Even if they do have antibodies, to what extent are they immune and for how long are they immune?” asks Bogosh. “I think those are still important questions that we need to answer.”

Unlike Health Canada, Bogosh says, the FDA essentially loosened some restrictions on which tests could be used earlier in the pandemic, and they were flooded with serology tests, most of which had dubious quality.

“I’m really glad Canada did this, cause it looks like we’ve approved an intelligent test to use. The next question is how will this test be used and how will this test be incorporated into different settings?” he added.

Health Canada says at least one million Canadian blood samples will be collected and tested over the next two years to track the virus in the general population and in specific groups at greater risk of having been infected, including health-care workers and seniors.

On Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced people can give their feedback on experiences and actions during the COVID-19 pandemic and volunteer for serology testing, through a new survey.

“I know that will appeal to a lot of people, so I encourage you to look at this survey,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “The information that we gather will help inform the decisions that we make in the weeks and months ahead,” she added.

It’s not clear if LIAISON is the test that will be used by the province.