British Columbia

Serology testing expected to shed new light on extent of COVID-19 infections in B.C.

Provincial health offier Dr. Bonnie Henry says a new type of COVID-19 testing will soon help British Columbians better understand the true depth of infection in the community, as well as whether having had the disease leaves a patient with immunity.

'Serology testing will be an important part of our future,' says provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says a second type of COVID-19 testing called serology testing will soon debut in B.C., giving a more accurate picture of how many people have been infected. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Provincial health offier Dr. Bonnie Henry says a new type of COVID-19 testing will soon help British Columbians better understand the true depth of infection in the community, as well as whether having had the disease leaves a patient with immunity.

So far, B.C., along with most of the world, has basically relied on genetic testing that detects whether the virus itself is in a patient, but soon testing will begin to detect whether a person has antibodies produced in reaction to SARS-CoV-2.

"Serology [testing] is a way of looking back and saying 'OK, how many people actually did get infected?' and giving us a better sense of the true numbers in the province," said Henry on Friday.

She said, so far, testing hasn't been done on everyone who has shown signs and symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, because the focus has been on clusters of infection and people more likely to catch the disease and wind up in the health-care system.

"Serology testing will be an important part of our future," said Henry, adding that she expects it to start in the coming weeks — before the province begins reducing restrictions to allow some business and postponed medical procedures to resume.

She said a sample of the community can be tested to see how many people actually had COVID-19 — perhaps they weren't prioritized for testing or perhaps they never showed symptoms and thought to get testing. 

Henry said serology testing can also help us understand whether infected people who have recovered have become immune to the virus — something she says health officials believe is the case.

"We can do testing on our health-care workers, for example, to give them confidence around being able to care for people with COVID-19," she said.

Henry also said if COVID-19 cases arise in a few months, serology testing could help us understand where unrecognized transmission had taken place, making it easier for public health officials to contain and prevent further transmission.

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