Janesville’s hospitals have begun offering antibody testing, but the impact those test results will have on the pandemic are yet to be seen.

Mark Goelzer, medical director at Mercyhealth, said there is still a lot to learn about antibody testing and how it will help health officials better understand COVID-19.

Antibody testing shows whether a person was infected sometime in the past with the novel coronavirus and now has antibodies created in response to the virus.

An antibody is a blood protein the body produces to fight viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances.

Antibodies can protect the body from getting some diseases twice, however, it is not known yet if or how many antibodies are needed to protect someone from getting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, more than once, Goelzer said.

“More information is still being learned about COVID-19, said Erica Mathis, spokeswoman for SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, in an email to The Gazette.

“As such, there is still not enough evidence to know what a ‘positive result,’ or having the antibodies, really means for an individual.”

Antibody testing can provide peace of mind for people who think they had the disease or have been in the contact with the virus but were never tested, Goelzer said.

Shortages of test supplies at the beginning of the pandemic made it difficult for people with mild or no symptoms to be tested.

People who test positive for antibodies should not assume they have natural immunity for the disease.

Those who test positive should not stop taking precautions such as wearing a face mask or social distancing, Mathis said.

The test can help identify who could donate plasma to help with coronavirus research and treatment, Goelzer said.

Plasma with antibodies can help neutralize the virus in sick people before it becomes a problem. This has been done locally for some people, Goelzer said.

Those looking to be tested should contact their primary care physician, Mathis said.

All are is eligible as long as they are not presenting symptoms of COVID-19, in which case they should be tested for the virus, not the antibodies, Mathis said.

Health officials are still determining the cost for antibody tests at Mercyhealth, Goelzer said.

Mercyhealth is sending tests to an outside lab and is waiting to see what the lab will be charging for processing, Goelzer said.

Many insurance companies are still deciding if or how to cover the antibody tests, Goelzer said.

Antibody tests are supposed to be covered under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Mathis said.

People should still check with their insurance plans to discuss coverage and costs, Mathis said.

Concerns have been raised nationally about the accuracy of antibody testing as the production of tests was rushed in response to the pandemic.

Goelzer said the tests at Mercyhealth are “pretty accurate” so long as someone gets tested in the appropriate time frame.

Testing within the first four to seven days of having the illness might not work because the body has not had enough time to produce antibodies, Goelzer said.