United Medical Doctors Urgent Care has begun antibody testing for the coronavirus that can produce results within a day or so. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Jeff Pack
Staff Writer

United Medical Doctors Urgent Care in Temecula on Thursday, April 16 began conducting COVID-19 antibody testing using test kits purchased from a leading development company in South Korea. 

“They have actually deployed it in (South) Korea, it is by a company called SD Biosensor, and this is one of the tests that’s being widely deployed out there,” Dr. James Rhee, medical director for United Medical Doctors Urgent Care, said. “When you look at South Korea, they started experiencing coronavirus cases at the exact same time the United States did. But when you look at Korea versus the United States, they have taken very different approaches to the disease and have different outcomes in terms of where the disease is right now.”

According to an information sheet provided to the Valley News by UMD Urgent Care, “The COVID-19 Antibody Test is a blood test that identifies the IgM and IgG antibodies that are specific for COVID-19. It only requires blood from a fingerstick (i.e., similar to the test for diabetic patients to test their blood sugar levels). These antibodies are produced by the body in response to infection and can start to appear soon after infection.”

According to UMD Urgent Care, the detection of IgG, which stays in the body longer than the IgM antibody, could mean that the body has developed immunity against further COVID-19 infections.  

According to Dr. Rhee, the FDA is permitting antibody testing for COVID-19 but has not approved many of the antibody tests officially. He believes that in an ever-changing environment, additional approvals are on the way. 

“Here in the United States, I think we’ll ultimately get there,” Dr. Rhee said. “These tests that we’re getting are the finger stick tests, but because it doesn’t have FDA approval, it falls under a different category where basically, even though the FDA has not approved this test at this time, they are allowing these tests to be distributed. 

“They’re saying that these tests can be marketed by the manufacturer and could be used basically in a validation or testing type of capacity.”

United Medical Doctors has a high-complexity licensed lab in Murrieta, meaning the tests can be performed in accordance with guidelines by the FDA. These tests deliver results very quickly. 

“The test itself only takes approximately 15 minutes once you start running it,” Dr. Rhee said. “So it’s actually pretty fast. We’ll run it on a daily basis.”

UMD Urgent Care will evaluate each patient before administering the test. 

“As each individual is unique and the interpretation of diagnostic tests should be done in the context of other factors, a medical evaluation is an important part of any diagnostic evaluation,” the UMD Urgent Care statement reads. 

The evaluation may be performed through their telemedicine platform that can be accessed through their United MD Mobile App. Patients can schedule a telemedicine appointment by calling (951) 383-2618.

Dr. Rhee said that after the evaluation, the provider will determine whether the testing is needed and direct the patient to the Murrieta drive-through location. 

They say the results should be available on the same day.

Dr. Rhee said the test is not good for patients that are just starting to show symptoms. 

“If you’re acutely ill, your body is just starting to form the antibodies,” he said. “This test actually isn’t very sensitive early in the acute disease process, it’s almost 100% sensitive, based on the literature from Korea, after about 12 days. After 12 days, that’s when you actually now have some antibodies to test. So I think it’s a perfect test for those patients who have recovered, they were sick early on, they think that they may have had it. This would help test for that.”

What is the benefit of knowing that a patient has had the coronavirus?

“Here’s the million-dollar question, because this may have huge, huge, huge impact on how we’re going to handle it,” Dr. Rhee said. “Because if you have had it, then now you are potentially immune, right? Let’s say you are a healthcare worker, or let’s say you’re a caregiver and you don’t know if you’re going be susceptible to picking up or not. This test may be able to tell us whether you are actually immune to it. It may also help for return to work status. There are a whole bunch of potential implications behind the test.”

For more testing information, call (951) 383-2618 or visit www.unitedmdurgentcare.com. 

Editor’s Note: Listen to Dr. Rhee’s conversation about issues surrounding the coronavirus/COVID-19 in our Newsmakers Podcast at https://www.reedermediapods.com/e/drjamesrhee-1/

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com