Newly approved T-cell test is a more accurate way to tell if you’ve had COVID-19, experts say

Tests could be a game-changer for many COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ with lingering symptoms

SAN ANTONIO – It’s a brand new type of test, just approved by the FDA for emergency use, that seems to more accurately track whether someone has previously been infected with COVID-19.

Experts say it could be a game-changer for those with long-term COVID-19 symptoms, called “long-haulers.”

“Fatigue is one of the major issues, shortness of breath, they may have dizziness, headache, joint aches and pains, they can have abnormal symptoms with their heart rate,” said Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, who runs the clinics at University Health and UT Health San Antonio for COVID-19 long-haulers.

“Most of them were mild cases. I would say that in our clinic, 75% of patients were never hospitalized,” Gutierrez said.

That means many of the patients never actually tested positive for COVID-19.

Gutierrez and her colleagues have been relying on antibody tests, but she says accuracy varies. She said some early antibody tests were not able to distinguish between different coronaviruses and also that each person’s body keeps those antibodies for different lengths of time.

That’s why she was thrilled last week when the FDA approved the T-Detect COVID test, a brand new technology developed by the company Adaptive Biotechnologies in a partnership with Microsoft.

The test uses T-cells, the immune system’s so-called black boxes of information, to diagnose patients with COVID-19.

“They’re able to remember old viruses that you’ve fought,” Gutierrez said. “So, this test can go through all the history of T-cells that we have and find if you had COVID-19 or not even if it was way in the past.”

However, the biggest barrier for the test is accessibility. Currently, you can only get the test directly through the company and it costs $150.

“I heard they were going to try to make it more accessible to patients who didn’t have the financial resources to do so,” Gutierrez said.

She said she is in conversations with colleagues in the field about how they can use these tests for their own patients.

“It just broke last week so it’s even us learning, where can we get it? Where can we order it from? Is it something we can just order together online with the patient or if I recommend it and give them a prescription can they go find the test and order it for themselves?” Gutierrez said.

She’s hoping to get answers to all of those questions soon for her hundreds of long-hauler patients.

To learn more about the T-Detect test or to order one, head to the company’s website.

Also on KSAT:

COVID-19 UK variant found in animals for the first time by Texas A&M researchers

Texas woman among thousands of COVID-19 survivors struggling with ‘mystery’ long-haul symptoms

As COVID-19 cases decline across Texas, testing rates are dropping too

About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

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