Italy turns to rapid antibody tests to ease country back to normality

(Update 1: Adds latest coronavirus figures in last 2 graphs)

Rome, Apr 2 (efe-epa).- Some Italian regions have started testing populations on a large scale with antibody tests in order to identify who has developed immunity to Covid-19 and can safely return to daily life without the risk of spreading the disease.

Starting Thursday the Emilia-Romagna region will begin testing all health care workers to see who has developed an immune response to the virus.

The first round will see some 100,000 professionals tested, and by the end of the operation around 200,000 health care workers will have received antibody tests, regional authorities said in a statement.

“The safety of health workers and patients must be the priority. It is essential that the personnel dedicated to this emergency work in conditions of maximum protection for themselves and for their patients without running the risk of being a source of contagion,” regional health policy adviser Raffaele Donini said.

Donini said that antibody tests will detect traces of the presence of antigens through a small blood sample using pinprick tests.

Those that test negative for will be examined again after 15 days.

Workers that test positive for Covid-19 antigens, which will prove they have been infected and have already overcome disease, will undergo a conventional antibody test to confirm the results.

Massimiliano Frediga, president of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy, said his region was examining the possibility of conducting widespread antibody testing.

Frediga added that although these tests “are still not 100 percent reliable” they can be combined with traditional tests to provide more accurate results.

“If we can guarantee that a person is cured and has developed the antibodies and is not contagious, we can give them the possibility of returning to their activities,” Frediga said.

The Veneto region has already been screening people for several days and hopes to test 100,000 doctors, nurses and health personnel before rolling out across the wider population.

According to the president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, the aim is to develop a sort of “immunity license” so that authorities can identify who has already contracted the virus – including asymptomatic carriers – so that those who have overcome it can return to work.

Veneto has purchased tests from Chinese company Snibe Diagnostics, which is certified by the European Union, Corriere della Sera said in Thursday’s edition.

Mario Plebani and Giuseppe Lippi, experts heading the research laboratories in Padua and Verona, told the newspaper the sensitivity of the tests seemed very satisfactory.

Many mayors in the Lombardy region, the worst-hit by Covid-19 in Italy, have urged the regional president, Attilio Fontana, to start using the antibody tests immediately.

Fontana said the tests were being examined in laboratories to ensure results would be highly accurate adding that “they will be used when the Higher Institute of Health (ISS) says they are valid.

The ISS has said that the need for rapid antibody tests was being examined and that the technology was in development.

So far, the tests have not yet been certified as fully reliable, according to the ISS.

For Roberto Burioni, Microbiology and Virology professor at the San Raffaele University Hospital in Milan “reliable serological tests are crucial to know how many people have had the disease.”

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