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Surprise! You Probably Didn't Have Coronavirus, After All

Only a little over 1/3 of test subjects who thought they’d had COVID-19 actually did.
The surprised girl holds a thermometer in her hands.

You probably know at least one person—possibly yourself—who thinks they have already had coronavirus, despite never having taken a COVID-19 test. Maybe you suffered from a terrible respiratory infection, a spiked fever, or a seriously debilitating stomach bug sometime early in the year, and didn't think much of it until the pandemic began spreading at a rapid speed across the country. Or, maybe you simply didn't feel sick enough to take a test. Regardless, it's probably not a great idea to assume you have antibodies or are immune to the coronavirus. 

According to a new study, an overwhelming majority of those who thought they already had it are wrong. 

You "Probably Didn't Have It"

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai have found that only 37% of those who thought they had COVID-19 in the last three months, but never received a confirmed clinical diagnosis via a test, actually tested positive for the antibodies. 

"That does imply that likely many of the people who suspect that they had this probably didn't have it," Dr. Ania Wajnberg, one of the authors of the Mount Sinai study and an associate professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine, explains. "You can't assume that you had it just because you didn't feel well a few months ago."

In case you are curious to what degree antibodies can determine whether or not an individual had an infection, researchers claim that 99% of those who had a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis did in fact have them. 

The study has not been peer-reviewed, and is part of the medical center's antibody testing program, focused on identifying convalescent plasma donors in order to provide seriously ill patients an experiential treatment to battle the virus. 

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"We've given convalescent plasma to hundreds of patients at the Mount Sinai health system, and that's been a good thing to be part of," Wajnberg said. "And it's also helping us learn about potential immunity."

Antibody Studies Continue

While some research has been conducted attempting to discover the percentage of people who have already been infected with the highly contagious virus (one small study conducted by researchers at USC, estimated the number at 4% of the population), it's likely we won't have a reliable answer until 2021. The CDC has reportedly begun an expansive antibody study across 25 metropolitan areas around the country, with plans to test 325,000 people. 

Even then, some may be left scratching their heads—did they have it or not? "I had symptoms during the early first wave but didn't qualify for a test, because there were so few tests," said one New Yorker from Brooklyn who asked to remain anonymous. "Shortness of breath, fatigue, chills—the works. My wife had stomach issues for a day, as well. But when we got tested for antibodies weeks after recovering, we didn't have them. So we're remaining as cautious, and as confused, as ever."

Bottom Line: Get yourself tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms—and consider an antibody test if you once had symptoms but feel better now. The more data we have as a society, the healthier you will be. And get through this pandemic at your absolute healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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