A makeshift hospital that treats coronavirus infections in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the heart of the outbreak, will check patients’ blood for antibodies before discharging them, after several people were sent home only to be readmitted with symptoms of infection.
The test for antibodies, an immune system response to fighting infection, is supposed to more accurately assess whether a patient has cleared the virus. The hospital, in Jiang’an district, began using the secondary tests on Thursday, according to the Paper, a state-owned Chinese news outlet.
The test detects two antibodies specific to the new coronavirus, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Some coronavirus patients have tested positive for the virus weeks after apparently recovering from the infection, complicating efforts to contain the outbreak.
Experts said it was possible that low levels of the virus were still present in discharged patients, which normal testing failed to pick up. The tests are difficult to administer and often inaccurate. It is less likely that patients were infected a second time, because recovered individuals often develop short-term immunity.
Several other countries, including Singapore, have used serological tests to trace contacts and detect links between clusters of coronavirus infections. The antibodies identified by these tests provide a “significant piece of evidence” between cases, the Singaporean Ministry of Health has said.
Reporting was contributed by Melissa Eddy, Michael Wolgelenter, Marc Santora, Niki Kitsantonis, Mitch Smith, Sarah Mervosh, Davey Alba, Mike Baker, Tiffany May, Claire Fu, Elaine Yu, Farah Stockman, Ed Shanahan, Neil Vigdor, Lauretta Charlton and James Gorman.