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West Michigan doctor is one of the first offering COVID-19 antibody tests in area

Antibodies can be an indication of immunity to coronavirus.

DOUGLAS, Mich. — Dr. Laurie Birkholz is one of the first doctors in West Michigan to offer COVID-19 antibody testing. The blood tests show if a body has produced antibodies that fight the virus. That indicates a person has had the virus in the past.

Antibodies can also be an indication of some immunity to the virus.

“How much immunity, we don’t know 100% at this point,” said Birkholz, “but we can tell if someone who was ill that was because of the coronavirus.”

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Birkholz has a temporary office in Douglas, Michigan, and is opening an office soon in Holland. She is working with Premier Biotech to make the antibody testing available to patients.

The test is a simple finger prick and can be done in minutes. If it comes back positive, the person has been exposed to the virus and built up some kind of immunity.

Credit: Laurie Birkholz
Dr. Birkholz shows us how to administer the antibody test.

“That’s sort of your army of defense against the virus,” said Birkholz, “so if there is an individual who has built up that antibody and has recovered, they can donate their plasma that contains that IGG [antibody] in the hope that the individual receiving the plasma has a better army to fight off the virus.”

Birkholz said she has tested about 120 patients in the past several days. Of those, only two have tested positive for the antibodies.

She said that is an indication Michigan’s stay at home order is working and less people are becoming infected.

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“What my data is showing and what hospitals are saying,” said Birkholz, “people have not been exposed to the virus. Unlike communities in California or New York City, you are seeing the potential development of herd immunity. That’s not the case here. We have to be smart about how we start to go back to normal life.”

The test is not FDA approved, but Birkholz said it’s in line to be approved.

“We need answers, we need data,” said Birkholz, “If we wait for things to happen in the usual manner, we’re looking at weeks to months. I think we’ve learned that’s not going to work in this current situation.”

Birkholz is offering the testing free to her patients, and $75 for non-members, $40 for a healthcare worker or first responder. To schedule an appointment, email her at drlauriebirkholz@gmail.com.

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