W. MI doctor among first to offer COVID-19 antibody tests

DOUGLAS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan doctor near Saugatuck is one of the first in the area to offer COVID-19 antibody tests, which can indicate if a person has some level of immunity against the virus.

Several countries have already started using these tests as a way to get people back to work.

Dr. Laurie Birkholz in Douglas has ordered several hundred tests and is very busy treating patients. Her private practice received some at the end of last week. She expects another shipment this weekend.

The office has completed more than 40 tests, with only one patient with a positive result for antibodies. The person had symptoms more than a month ago.

Birkholz says the test done on-site with a finger prick of blood can provide results within 10 to 20 minutes showing whether someone has either of the two types of antibodies for COVID-19. One is called IgG and the other IgM.

“If it comes back with the IgM antibody that indicates an acute infection. That person is infected at that point and time. Those IgM antibodies do stick around for a while, two to four weeks, maybe longer in people who are really severely ill. The IgG antibody is the antibody that comes in after and really confirms longer-term immunity,” Birkholz said.

Antibody tests are starting to be available to some medical providers across the country.

“Our tests, in particular, are coming from Premier Biotech. This is the same test really being offered by some of the larger medical suppliers in our country,” said Birkholz.

The FDA recently made changes to allow the tests to be deployed more rapidly.

“It’s not FDA approved — it is FDA authorized. In other words, it is perfectly legal and appropriate to be offering the test, and the reason they are doing that is they really recognize the need to get these tests into the hands of physicians and the community,” Birkholz said.

Birkholz opened a temporary practice in Douglas before her new private practice in Holland is finished to help with the COVID-19 crisis.

“It just really felt like the right thing to do,” Birkholz said.

Birkholz says the test is not needed for everyone.

“I think it’s a valuable piece of information for people who want it but do people absolutely need it? I think no. The results aren’t going to change our recommendations to stay home, wear a mask, those things are going to remain in place regardless of your test results,” Birkholz said.