Sars-CoV-2
A lab technician holds a test tube that contains blood from a patient who tested positive for COVID-19 in Tilburg, on April 22, 2019.
  • All major pathology labs in South Africa are now offering Covid-19 antibody tests, with some promising results in 24 hours.
  • These tests are significantly cheaper than the PCR test, but they’re not indicated for everyone.
  • You’ll still need to visit your doctor for a referral though.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider South Africa.

Three of South Africa’s leading private pathology labs are now offering Covid-19 antibody tests - after a lengthy approval delay by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

The recently-approved antibody tests are significantly cheaper than the gold-standard of reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, which tests for active infections. 

And even though a test may satiate some curiosity of those who think they may have contracted the virus at some point and been asymptomatic, some medical experts have said that they aren’t yet worth the money.

That’s because the antibody tests cannot necessarily detect active cases of Covid-19 like the PCR tests can. Instead, pathology lab Ampath says that a positive antibody test result means that it is "very likely" that the patient has or had Covid-19, and developed an immune response. 

The relevance of having once contracted Covid-19 is controversial. Some have argued that the antibody tests are a necessary weapon in the fight against the coronavirus - particularly when it comes to preparing for new outbreaks, contact tracing, and identifying vulnerable people ahead of a potential second wave.

But as long as there are still uncertainties around immunity and reinfection of Covid-19, their use will likely be limited. For this reason, Pathcare says the results of these tests shouldn’t be used to influence decisions on returning to the workplace or so-called immunity passports.

“It should be noted that there is currently not sufficient evidence to correlate the detection of antibodies with immune protection. A positive antibody test result should therefore not be regarded as proof of immunity and must not be used to reduce or abandon protective measures,” the laboratory said in a press release

The laboratory says issuing of an “immunity passport" or “immunity certificate”, based on a positive antibody test result, is not recommended by the South African Department of Health or by the World Health Organisation.

There is also some controversy around the accuracy of Covid-19 antibody tests - with not all created equal. And it’s important to know when to take the antibody test.

“Very little data is available on antibody responses beyond 21 days from symptom onset. Some recovered Covid-19 patients were shown to zero-revert after several weeks to months, i.e. had no detectable antibodies in the serum,” according to SAHPRA.

In spite of this, three of the country’s leading pathology laboratories are now offering approved antibody tests. All Covid-19 antibody tests at major labs are conducted off a blood sample - and all require that you get a referral from a doctor first, with no self-referrals currently being accepted.

Here’s how much the antibody test will cost you - excluding your doctor's consultation fees:

  • Ampath: R230
  • Pathcare: R224.10 (24-hour turnaround time in Gauteng and Western Cape, 48 hours elsewhere)
  • Lancet: R230 (24 hours from sample arrival in Johannesburg)

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Get the best of our site emailed to you daily: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: