Houston first responders to begin COVID-19 antibody tests

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston firefighters will be among the first that are going to be able to get a COVID-19 antibody blood test.

Fire Chief Samuel Pena said the testing will begin on Thursday, April 16. The tests will be made available for first responders including Houston firefighters and police officers.

The tests are going to be administered at a Walgreens location in the 14000 block of Westheimer Road in west Houston.

"That's going to be a huge help for us," said Pena during a daily briefing of the city's coronavirus response on Wednesday. "It's just one more avenue, and it gives us a quicker return."

Pena said there are currently 75 firefighters in quarantine. The number has significantly decreased in a span of weeks.

An American health care company said it plans to ship millions of the antibody tests across the country on Thursday and intends to have 4 million tests in laboratories by April and 20 million by June.

Wesley Long, MD, PhD., Medical Director of Diagnostic microbiology Laboratory at Houston Methodist Hospital said right now antibody testing is not widely available.

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"We do expect in the next coming weeks, we're going to see an increasing number of antibody or serological tests," Long said.

Long said these test are important in the search for an effective COVID-19 treatment and vaccine.

"It's testing done on the blood to look for evidence that your immune system has developed a response to the Coronavirus or any virus so in antibody testing," Log said. "What we're doing is we're taking a sample of your blood and then look at the blood for antibodies that will recognize particular bits and pieces or proteins of the virus called antigens."

He said this specific testing is for people who may have had the virus, but couldn't get testing at the time, and are now recovered from it.

"These antibody test aren't particularly useful for diagnosing infection early in disease when symptoms start," Long said. "Normally the antibodies that are being detected in the test won't appear for five or six days or more after symptom onset (start)."

This new test could detect the presence of the virus, which can help support the development of vaccines and let public officials understand how widespread the outbreak is, the company said.

READ MORE: Abbott plans to ship 4 million coronavirus antibody tests by end of April

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