Friday, July 10, 2020

Our COVID-19 Antibody Test in México

An Interesting and Informative Experience!

Punta Mita Hospital Emergency Room
     Near the end of February, before the COVID-19 pandemic had been announced to the world, I caught a cold. It started with a slight sore throat and a runny nose, like any winter cold. It’s always seemed strange to me that, even living in warm, sunny México, I usually catch a cold about once a year.
As soon as I noticed the sore throat, I took some Emergen-C and a Cold-Eeze lozenge. It was especially frustrating because we had been so careful when we flew down to Puerto Vallarta from Tucson in mid-February. Sitting on a plane full of people for five hours is a sure way to pick up a bug, so we took Emergen-C three times on the day we traveled to try to prevent getting sick. This was in addition to the 2000mg of vitamin C and other vitamins we take daily. But I guess we should have taken Emergen-C for two or three days to build up our immune system.
Then the cough started. The intense chills lasted a full day. I took ibuprofen or acetaminophen for the aches and headaches. The cough intensified until Vicks Formula 44 syrup had little effect. I resorted to using a Ventolin inhaler every four hours for the cough, which worked better and eased my breathing. Bed rest, Vitamin C, and zinc helped me heal.
Jon, my husband, caught my cold a week later. His case wasn’t as severe but the symptoms were similar, minus the chills. Though most symptoms disappeared in less than a week, my cough lasted for three or four weeks.
Remember, the coronavirus infections had not been labeled a COVID-19 pandemic at that point.
Ready to Go for Our SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Test

     Three months later, as we educated ourselves with reliable COVID-19 pandemic information, I began to wonder if we had already had the dreaded infection back in February and March. Could we have acquired SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and possible protection from the virus? We continued to be cautious when out in public to avoid contracting or spreading this virus, but hopeful that we were carrying protective antibodies in our blood.
We recently learned that the antibody test is available in the area where we live, Nayarit, México. We deliberated about whether it was worth it to go to a hospital and have the test administered. After all, if we didn’t carry the antibodies in our blood, a hospital is a risky place to go—we might contract the virus while at the emergency room having the test done. We decided to do it.
SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Test Package at Punta Mita

     Two hospitals near our home offer the SARS-CoV-2 Antibody test, St. Luke’s in Sayulita and Punta Mita Hospital. We decided to go to Punta Mita because it was significantly less expensive, has good reviews, and we could turn the afternoon into an adventure in the town of Punta Mita with lunch on the beach.
     I made an appointment over the phone for Jon and me to both have the test done. I spoke with Dr. Franco and made it very clear that we wanted the antibody test, meaning we had already had COVID-19 months ago, not the test for the virus. He assured me that they had the serology antibody test. The price was quoted as $116 U.S. dollars or 2297 Mx pesos for each test, including a 16% tax. We were told to come to the emergency room reception area when we arrived where they only allowed one person at a time. All people with respiratory symptoms that could be active COVID-19 infections entered a different part of the hospital.
Punta Mita Hospital Reception Sign

     We masked up and entered the emergency room reception area. They allowed Jon and me to come in together but others were asked to wait outside. After the technician tested our blood oxygen level, blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and asked if we had any symptoms of COVID-19, we were declared healthy and could proceed with the test.
Jon Having His Finger Pricked to Draw Blood for the Test

Jon's Blood is in the Well, Serum Wicking Up the Test

Jon's Test Shows Negative for COVID-19 Antibodies

     We were impressed with the staff, the procedures, and the facilities at Punta Mita Hospital. The technician explained that Jon’s serology test results for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) Antibodies was negative because the line stopped at the “C” on the stick, meaning he has not had the COVID-19 infection in the past.
If a line appears at the M, it indicates the person has IgM antibodies. If a line appears at the G, it indicates the person has IgG antibodies. From my reading, I have learned that if a person tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, meaning they have had the COVID-19 infection at least two weeks previously, giving the body time to produce both of these antibodies, a line will appear at the G and the M.
My SARS-CoV-2 serology test was negative for antibodies also.
As we left the hospital, I told Jon I was disappointed. I had felt sure that we had Covid-19 back in late February and early March. I had been hopeful that we had developed antibodies against the virus and, therefore, most likely had protection against getting it again. Jon agreed with me. He was discouraged, too.
It’s possible that the test results were false negatives, meaning the tests themselves were faulty. I have read that not all SARS-CoV-2 Antibody tests are created equal and many have been found to give false readings. But we will trust the results. We will assume we do not carry any protective antibodies in our blood. We will continue to be extra careful when we are in public, washing our hands often and distancing ourselves from others. We still plan to live our lives as close to normal as possible while avoiding the risk of spreading the virus. We will still dine out at reputable restaurants, enjoying life every day. We believe living in fear is unhealthy.
Entrance to La Pescadora Restaurant in Punta Mita

     We walked the half-mile from the hospital to “restaurant row” on the beach in Punta Mita and had a wonderful meal at La Pescadora where the staff followed all precautionary steps to keep us safe from the dreaded virus. We enjoyed the cool ocean breeze on that hot afternoon, the view of the sea, and the entertaining wind-surfer getting a wild ride in the strong wind, as we were on the fringe of Tropical Storm Cristina.
The Bay View from La Pescadora Restaurant in Punta Mita

     Thank you for reading my books and blog articles. If you are interested in reading more about Serology Testing for COVID-19 from the CDC here's the link

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Terry L Turrell
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  1. Our host here at our long-term Airbnb in North Carolina was very sick in March with the same symptoms as you and was sure she had also had COVID-19. She recently went for an antibody test, and like you two, was told that she did not have the antibodies. Like you, she still thinks that she might have had it, and the tests are just not all that accurate, but there is no way to know, especially since influenza was peaking here in NC at that same time. It would be nice to know one was immune (at least for awhile) to COVID. I'm sorry your tests were negative, so please be careful out there! I know you are....

  2. Hi Emily,
    Thanks for reading and for your information. You're right, there's no way to know for sure at this point if we had COVID-19 or not. I've had many readers reply that they had the same symptoms about the same time but antibody tests were negative. I know I'm "wishful thinking" that maybe the test was not accurate and I do have some protective antibodies, but I also understand that we must continue to be cautious about future exposure. I hope you are well. Terry

    1. Yes, we are staying healthy and being very careful. It is a scary time, but we're at glad to be able to ride our bikes and have a safe home where it's easy to shelter in place.

    2. I agree. It is a scary time. I especially feel bad for the locals here in Mexico, who rarely complain, but are suffering financially. We help our neighbors and our Mexican community whenever possible, being careful not to hurt anyone's pride. I wonder sometimes, will it ever be over?
      Take care.

  3. We were living parallel lives -- as you know. My result was also negative, and I am simply going to accept the result for what it is.

    Weirdly, I have just had another bout of what I had in March -- without the fever and chills. It appears to be a simple head cold that is now almost resolved.

    1. Hi Steve,
      I've been wondering if you might have had COVID-19. Did you have the quick-test that gives you results in a few minutes? That's the one we had this week and I'm still skeptical about the accuracy. I'm going to another lab in Puerto Vallarta this week for the blood test that takes about three days to get results. It is supposed to be 90% accurate. After that test, I will accept the results.
      I hope you are feeling better soon. Thanks for your comments.