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Richmond researcher develops COVID-19 antibody test 

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Posted at 7:21 PM, Apr 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-25 19:24:42-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A researcher at Granger Genetics said the COVID-19-plagued Henrico nursing home was crucial in the lab's work to develop an antibody blood test to determine if someone has had the coronavirus.

“While we can’t diagnose them right now with the antibody test, we would be able to see where the virus had been and have a better idea of how big the epidemic is,” Dr. Rebecca Caffrey told WTKR.

Caffrey has been spending most of her days in the diagnostic lab where to validate the accuracy of the test, a lot of samples are needed.

 Dr. Rebecca Caffrey
Dr. Rebecca Caffrey

“They don’t have any samples,” Caffrey said. “There was no government agency or private organization I could go to and get the blood samples to validate this test, so we had to take matters into our own hands.”

For the past week, Caffrey has been traveling across the state collecting more than 200 blood samples from volunteers confirmed to be COVID-19 positive or negative.

Most of her donations came from patients and staff at Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center where 49 residents died of COVID-19-linked illnesses, making it one of the deadliest nursing home outbreaks in the country since the pandemic began.

“We owe them a lot,” Caffrey said.

Caffrey said six of the 10 staff members who had false negatives from the nasal swab tests had been exposed to the virus.

“I’m finding between 40 and 60 percent of people who have tested negative by the nasal swab have antibodies -- they’re positive,” Caffrey explained.

RELATED: Feds reviewing investigation into COVID-19-plagued Henrico nursing home

Antibodies from people who have recovered from COVID-19 could be key to fighting the virus.

That is why 70-year-old Gwen Sarsfield donated blood to Caffrey.

“I knew I could donate platelets and that could be useful to research and someone else overcome disease,” Sarsfield said.

Sarsfield believes she was infected while on an overseas cruise in December, well before reports of the novel disease surfaced in the U.S.

“There was no mistaking that I had it,” she said. “I had a very severe, dry cough and terrible chest congestion. It was completely devastating, and it lasted so long.”

According to Caffrey, doctors will be able to order the antibody test Monday.

However, Caffrey is warning about fraudulent and illegal antibody test kits that could give people inaccurate results.

If you get tested at a diagnostic center, Caffrey urged folks to ask what brand the kit is, who manufactures it and if is FDA approved.

If they can’t answer those questions, you may not want to use that test, Caffrey warned.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for complete coverage of this important developing story.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.