ONE million DIY Covid antibody tests have been bought up by the Government – six months after they were first promised by officials.
The finger-prick blood tests can be done at home – and give a result in just 20 minutes.
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They work by looking for Covid antibodies, which are proteins in the blood produced by the body in response to the infection, and could show whether someone has already had the killer bug.
It's thought that around three million people in England and Wales have had coronavirus – but the true scale is unknown.
Officials hope that the roll-out of the kits will help in their effort track the spread of Covid-19, especially in those who experienced no symptoms.
Health minister Lord Bethell said the tests, which have been purchased from the UK-Rapid Test Consortium (UK-RTC), are the first of their kind to have been approved and bought by the Department of Health.
Britain's only antibody tests approved thus far have involved blood samples being sent to laboratories for analysis, which can take days.
But these tests do not need to be sent to a laboratory and instead involve a fingerprick device, providing a result within 20 minutes.
There has been concerns over accuracy with these types of tests and official have yet to reveal how good they are.
Early reports suggest they were 98.6 per cent accurate in detecting positive cases and 100 per cent in ruling out negatives.
What is the difference between an antigen and an antibody test?
TESTING is key to getting a clearer idea of the scale of the Covid outbreak in the UK.
There are two different types of tests – the antigen test and the antibody test.
The government refers to them as the 'have you got it' antigen test or the 'have you had it' antibody test.
Here we explain the difference between the two…
What is an antigen test?
Antigens are found on the surface of invading pathogens, including coronavirus.
Testing for antigens can determine whether someone is currently carrying the virus and are actively infectious.
The NHS is currently using antigen tests in hospitals, at drive-in test centres and at home to determine if someone is currently infected with Covid-19.
Samples are taken using a swab – which resemble a large cotton bud – from deep inside the nose and throat before being sent off to a lab for testing.
Most labs use a method called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which takes several hours to get a result.
It can take days for labs to run the tests and tell people their result.
Several companies are working on ways to fast track this type of testing.
What is an antibody test?
When a person gets infected with antigen, the body starts making specially designed proteins called antibodies in response – as a way to fight the infection.
After they recover, those antibodies float in the blood for months, maybe even years.
That's the body's way of defending itself in case it becomes infected with the virus again.
So an antibody test specifically looks for antibodies which will be able to tell whether you've already been exposed to Covid-19.
Anyone who has already had the illness is presumed to be immune to getting it again – at least, in the intermediate term.
This would allow them to go back to work safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to become infected again or pass the virus on.
The check that has been developed for Covid-19 is a finger-prick blood test, with the samples sent to laboratories and results available within a few days.
Dr Hilary Jones, a GP and resident doctor on Good Morning Britain, explained that it works "almost like a pregnancy test, except you need a drop of blood".
It means that for every 100 people tested, at least 98 will get an accurate positive antibody result.
Antibody tests gained attention earlier in the outbreak and were described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a "game-changer" in March.
However, there is currently no firm evidence that having antibodies means a person cannot be reinfected with the virus.
The UK-RTC, which developed the test, includes Oxford University, Abingdon Health, BBI Solutions and CIGA Healthcare.
Lord Bethell said: "Home testing is a powerful tool in understanding the disease and fighting its spread.
"So we are thrilled by the RTC product, both for Britain and export markets around the world."
Chris Yates, CEO of Abingdon Health, who led the UK-RTC said: "The UK Government order of the first one million tests is an endorsement of this UK-designed, developed and manufactured high-quality rapid diagnostic test.
"It is a triumph of British business and a breakthrough for UK life sciences.
“We have ramped up production since the start of August and will be ready to deliver the first tests to the Government by early October.
"I would like to express my thanks to all my Abingdon Health colleagues for their tremendous support and hard work in achieving this milestone.”
The antibody test has been evaluated by Public Health England, which will publish its findings in due course.
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