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UK plans to have a home blood test for coronavirus available soon on Amazon (Update: High failure rate?)

Nearly a week ago Allahpundit pointed out some tweets from a Seattle researcher named Trevor Bedford who suggested one way we could start to see the end of the current lockdown is through the widespread use of home testing for the virus. He was talking about nasal testing but he did say that eventually the goal would be widespread serological testing to determine who can return to work without danger of a) getting sick or b) spreading the virus.

Today, there are reports from the UK that this is what they hope to have up and running fairly soon. The idea is to provide a home blood test which can be ordered on Amazon. Apparently these tests would just require a drop of blood and you’d be able to find out if you have recovered from the virus:

Millions of people will soon be able to order a home finger-prick test from Amazon that will tell them if they have had Covid-19, health chiefs have promised.

People could be allowed back to work if they have recovered and tests show they are now immune, Sharon Peacock, director of the national infection service at Public Health England, said.

About 3.5 million antibody tests have been bought and millions more are being ordered with the aim of selling them to the public within days, she told MPs. However, government sources cautioned that the timetable was likely to slip as they decided who should get priority.

Boris Johnson has described the tests as a “total game-changer”, allowing people to know once they are no longer at risk of catching or passing on the virus.

The Guardian adds that there are two different varieties of this new test. One of them is designed to be as simple as a pregnancy test:

The home test, which looks like a pregnancy test, involves pricking a finger to produce a drop of blood, which is then analysed by the device.

“Several million tests have been purchased for use. These are brand new products. We have to be clear they work as they are claimed to do,” Peacock said. “Once they have been tested this week and the bulk of tests arrive, they will be distributed into the community.”…

The test detects the presence of IGM, an antibody that arises very early on in the infection, and IGG, which is increased in the body’s response to the virus. The results of some of the tests on order can be read by anyone, but others would need to be interpreted by healthcare professionals.

The only hitch here is that the test hasn’t been evaluated for accuracy yet. That’s what the health service will be trying to establish this week. After the announcement about the tests, the UK’s chief medical officer tamped down the enthusiasm a bit saying that if the the tests prove accurate they will be released, but if not then they will be not be.

What appears to be the same test could be coming to the U.S. soon. Earlier this week, Time magazine reported a California company has already licensed the test from a Chinese company:

Scanwell Health, an at-home test company based in California, licensed the rights to a test developed by Chinese company Innovita, which was used extensively at the height of country’s epidemic earlier this year…

Scanwell’s request for FDA emergency authorization could take six to eight weeks, says company founder and CEO Stephen Chen. If approved, it would be the first at-home test for the disease in the world—in China, because of government regulations, the test was only administered by doctors and health officials. Chen says at-home testing is more common in the U.S., and federal regulators are more comfortable approving properly designed kits, as long as the companies behind them provide ways for people to connect with doctors about the results.

The UK stories don’t mention the name of the company that developed the test but it appears to be the same one and tests for the same two antibodies. The US version of the test would also be mailed out but only after people pass an online pre-screening which is intended to establish that someone actually has relevant symptoms before requesting a test. Prior to the run on toilet paper I might have said the pre-screening wasn’t necessary but I can absolutely imagine people who aren’t sick hoarding these the moment they became available on Amazon, so maybe the pre-screening is a good idea.

I guess the one remaining question I have is why the UK is hoping to have this evaluated in a matter of days while the FDA is saying 6-8 weeks. According to the Time story, this test was used extensively in China, including in some hospitals. With the peak of the New York infection 2-3 weeks away, and other states potentially following close behind, a 6-8 week delay for FDA approval seems unwise. I’m not saying they should throw this out there without testing but maybe they could coordinate with the UK on a quicker timeline to evaluate this?

Update: Hmmm. This is from a Czeck news site I’ve never heard of but it sounds like the rapid tests they received from China are giving false readings 80% of the time compared to lab testing:

“We checked them on Saturday at the University Hospital Ostrava, but unfortunately the error rate was quite high, so now we are waiting for the results of further testing across the country, they have never been tested positively because it works with antibodies, ”said Svrčinová.

She added that the tests showed false positive and false negative results.

I don’t know if this is the same test but it is a quick antibody test from China. Maybe that’s why the UK’s chief medical officer wanted to tone down the anticipation about this?

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