'False security': Rapid antibody tests might have contributed to COVID-19 outbreak, say doctors

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 04 2020 01:47 PM

Health workers conduct rapid testing on local barangay officials in Barangay Addition Hills on May 7, 2020. Barangay Addition Hills was placed under total lockdown from May 7 up to May 13 to curb the spread of COVID19 in the area which is considered as a red zone. During the lockdown, the local government aims to conduct rapid tests among some 3,000 selected residents in the area. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News


MANILA — Doctors on Tuesday reiterated their call to stop the use of rapid antibody tests to screen for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in workplaces and other settings, saying it gave a false sense of security and could have aggravated the outbreak in the Philippines.

“Dapat ihinto na yang rapid antibody test na yan. Sa buong mundo tayo na lang yata gumagamit niyan (para sa screening),” said Dr. Antonio Dans, spokesperson of The Healthcare Professions Alliance Against COVID-19 during a virtual forum organized by the Philippine College of Physicians.

(The use of these rapid antibody tests should be stopped. I think we’re the only country in the world still using it.)

Dans said the test can only detect half of those who actually have COVID-19 since it can only measure antibodies and not the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Kung kalahati ng COVID hindi natin nakikita, anong mangyayari? Kakalat sila sa lipunan. At ganun lumalaganap ang COVID-19. Doon sa mga hindi natin alam na may COVID sila dahil negative sila (sa rapid antibody test),” Dans said.

(If it cannot detect half of those with COVID, what will happen? They will spread. That’s how COVID-19 is spread. Those who do not know they have COVID because they tested negative.)

“Kakalat yan. So sa tingin namin ang paggamit ng rapid test sa workplace naging problema at nakadagdag sa paglaganap ng COVID-19,” he added.

(It will spread. And we think that the use of rapid test in the workplaces became a problem and contributed to the spread of COVID-19.)

Back in May, medical societies and groups warned the government against allowing businesses to use rapid antibody tests to screen their employees who are returning to work. The Department of Health also cautioned against the false positive and false negative results of the said test kits.

Despite such warnings, rapid antibody tests were still used in workplaces and even local government units.

Dr. Aileen Espina of Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians said they will be meeting soon with Bases and Conversions Development Authority President and CEO Vince Dizon, who is the country’s “testing czar” and deputy chief implementer of the Philippines’ COVID-19 response.

“Sec. Dizon has already agreed to have further discussions. Kasi gusto po nilang mas maintindihan ano ang iba’t ibang available na test for COVID,” Espina said. 

The PCP and other doctors groups met with DOH and other government officials on Monday after the government declared a modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. The decision was in response to the PCP and other groups’ calls for stricter measures in order to address the continued rise in COVID-19 cases, which has been attributed to the gradual opening up of the economy.

She said during their last meeting with the Department of Health and government officials in charge with the COVID-19 response, they were able to explain the different kinds of tests, from the widely accepted polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to symptom-based tests that does not require a laboratory test and the various antibody test kits available in the market.

“When we were discussing those with Sec. Dizon naintindihan nila marami palang pagkakaiba. We just need to educate people ano ang proper timing, kelan dapat kinukuha ang test, ano ang minemeasure at paano ito iniinterpret,” Espina said.

(When we were discussing those with Sec. Dizon, they understood that there were differences. We just need to educate the people about proper timing, what is being measured and how is the result interpreted.)

Espina said using a test not for its intended purpose only creates “a false level of security.”

“Parang may magawa lang. Kasi kailangan kasi may test. Inuubo ka sige magpa-xray ka. You are not really addressing the issue,” she explained.

(Just so you are able to do something. Or simply because a test is required. It’s like saying, you’re coughing, okay get an X-ray. You are not really addressing the issue.)

Espina said the best action would be to treat patients as equals and educate them to help them make correct decisions.