Tag Archives: coronavirus

COVID 19: Am I Immune?

Does a positive antibody test mean a person is immune and safe from spreading the virus?

by Robert Kobre, Chairman, Global Lyme Alliance

The Global Lyme Alliance (“GLA”) has acquired an expertise in antibodies and immunity as a result of our significant efforts over many years to find an accurate diagnostic test for Lyme disease and a cure. We have studied antibodies to (i) determine immunity, (ii) understand their role in fighting disease and (iii) improve upon today’s unreliable, yet widely used antibody Lyme tests. This has led to GLA’s immense knowledge regarding antibody behavior, immunity and testing. So, America, welcome to our neighborhood!

Frequently, one hears, “I’m happy I tested positive for coronavirus antibodies because now I’m immune.” This is a common assumption that having antibodies against the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) means protection against COVID-19, and therefore social distancing and similar safeguards can be relaxed. After all, don’t antibodies neutralize the virus and prevent another infection? For many viruses and bacteria this scenario is true. For the virus that causes COVID-19, this may be the case, or the antibodies may act more like they do in Lyme disease. Those who contract Lyme disease do not develop immunity and therefore can repeatedly contract the disease.

There is a myriad of reasons why a person who tests positive for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 should still practice guidelines to ensure their own safety and that of others. First, antibodies do not stay in your bloodstream indefinitely. Upon infection, some antibodies may only last weeks or a few months. Second, not all antibodies can kill the virus or bacteria. Our immune systems are like a military defense system that is on duty 24/7 against microbial attack. Within weeks of a new intruder being detected, specially designed antibodies are unleashed in the body to hunt down the intruding virus and neutralize it. However, they are not always successful. Third, once the infection is contained, the antibodies are no longer needed and often disappear. If this occurs, don’t despair, because memory cells often develop in the bone marrow that can rapidly produce and re-release antibodies if the virus attacks again. The memory cells are much like anti-virus software that can identify a known virus and intercept it, thereby creating immunity to that invader.

These important memory cells are not always produced, however. For example, a GLA funded study showed that in Lyme disease, the bacteria can shut off the ability to develop memory cells, which then leaves the victim open to repeated infections with no protection. Medical researchers do not know if this is also the case with the novel coronavirus. If it is, then we are certainly not immune to reinfection. In fact, instances of re-exposure and reinfection have recently been reported.

Lyme disease antibody testing has been notoriously inaccurate and unreliable. These tests often fail to pick up Lyme antibodies in the blood and falsely provide a Lyme negative result. GLA has been backing studies to find a better antibody test. For COVID-19, antibody tests were developed quickly and fast tracked by the FDA. While the companies providing the tests have self-reported impressive sensitivity (does the test find the antibody) and specificity (the test finding antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 or ones that attach to other invaders too), most have not yet been independently verified. Additionally, tests for antibodies that neutralize the virus have not been made commercially available.

So, the issues are as follows: the antibodies likely don’t stay in your body for long, you may or may not have memory cells to stop a reinfection, the antibodies you do have may or may not be neutralizing, and the antibody tests are useful, but their reliability is not yet confirmed. Lyme disease patients are all too familiar with these unknowns. Until these questions are answered by scientists, please continue to wear masks, social distance and use caution even if you are not symptomatic and your COVID-19 antibody test is positive.

We feel it is important for the public to be aware that there are still critical unknowns as to whether a positive antibody test means a person is immune and safe from spreading the virus. Good science unfortunately takes time and validation. This is extremely frustrating, but it is a reality. Finding these answers is not easy. For 40 years, the biomedical research community has only made incremental progress in answering such questions for Lyme disease. However, Lyme disease research is woefully underfunded by federal and state authorities when compared to the tremendous public health impact of tick-borne diseases in the United States.

GLA is confident that with the billions being spent on COVID-19 research, the answers will come faster and the discoveries made will provide new pathways to cures and tests for this and other devastating diseases that threaten our way of life.

Related posts:

GLA Chairman Letter #1:What Can We Learn from Our Response to COVID-19?
GLA Chairman Letter #2:COVID-19: Is a Vaccine the Answer?  
Blog: Personal Patient Experience with COVID-19 and Lyme Disease
GLA Point Of View: Parallel Pandemics: COVID-19 and Lyme Disease
Letter: GLA CEO Addresses COVID-19 and GLA Community

covid-19_lyme disease_robert kobre

What Can We Learn from Our Response to COVID-19?

What can we learn from Lyme disease patients and our work in tick-borne disease research that can be applied to the current COVID-19 crisis?


by Robert Kobre, Chairman of the Board, Global Lyme Alliance

Most of us in the United States are currently living in extreme fear of contracting the new coronavirus, and our anxiety levels are at all-time highs. Few populations in the U.S. can empathize with this extreme anxiety more than those who already suffer from weakened immune systems, and the debilitating health condition known as Lyme disease. Infection by SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—is transmissible person-to-person while Lyme disease is a bacterial infection contracted through the bite of an infected tick. However, Lyme patients can relate to the uncertainty of diagnosis, fear of failed treatment, and the impact of isolation.

There are an estimated 427,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year, with as many as two million people projected to suffer from post-treatment Lyme disease by the end of 2020. Global Lyme Alliance is leading the research effort to find the answers through science that will provide for a reliable diagnostic test and effective treatments. We also work every day to address the fears, anxiety, and pain faced by Lyme patients and their families. So, what have we learned trying to tackle Lyme disease that can be applied to the COVID-19 crisis?

Timely and accurate diagnostic testing is the key factor in the management and treatment of both diseases. Current diagnostic testing for Lyme disease infection is very unreliable, with as many as 57% of patients falsely testing negative. Like COVID-19, symptoms may be indicative of something other than Lyme, leaving the patient stressed, unsure of what to do and frightened. The consequences of a missed diagnosis in both diseases can be devastating. Unlike COVID-19, death resulting from Lyme disease is rare. However, Lyme disease can be crippling physically, mentally and emotionally for months, years or even a lifetime, and unless treated early there is no definite cure. The Coronavirus and Lyme bacteria are complex pathogens, both of which will require massive focus and funding to eradicate.

As of the morning of April 14, 2020 there are more than 550,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and the number continues to grow rapidly. However, when COVID-19 first came to the U.S., both its presence and severity were minimized. People who were afraid and cautious about limiting contact with others were mocked, told they were paranoid, that it was “in their heads”, and that it was no different than the regular flu. This same dismissive and belittling attitude has consistently been directed against long-suffering Lyme patients, who are similarly told they are paranoid, alarmist and irrational for worrying about being in high-risk places outdoors.

COVID-19 has forced sheltering-in-place and social distancing on people who live in fear of interacting with others who may be infected. Similarly, people who live in endemic areas of Lyme disease fear going outdoors and interacting with nature where they can easily contract Lyme disease and other debilitating tick-borne diseases. Every step on the grass, walk in the woods, or something as simple as going to one’s mailbox could mean a lifetime of incapacitation. So, the Lyme community understands what America is going through.

Everyone hopes that a cure or vaccine for COVID-19 will arrive soon. The virus’s eradication, and the immune response to it, must be the top priority of our governmental leaders, America’s research universities, R&D centers, and pharmaceutical companies.

In time, and thanks to American know-how, creativity, outside-the-box thinking, and pure grit, we will find ourselves on the “other side” of this pandemic nightmare. When we do, let us hope that we have learned to be more compassionate and sensitive toward our fellow citizens who may be suffering from other devastating illnesses where testing is uncertain, cures elusive, and fears very real. At GLA, our hearts and prayers go out to all those suffering from COVID-19 or have lost loved ones to this cruel and isolating disease.

Additional COVID-19 and Lyme Disease Resources:

GLA POV: Parallel Pandemics: COVID-19 and Lyme Disease
Blog: Q&A on COVID-19 and Lyme Disease with LLMD
Blog: Personal Patient Experience with COVID-19 and Lyme Disease
Letter: GLA CEO Addresses COVID-19 and GLA Community

covid-19_letter from ceo_GLA

Letter from CEO About COVID-19 and GLA Community

The well-being of our community is an ongoing priority for Global Lyme Alliance (GLA). The current COVID-19 pandemic has created a new set of challenges for everyone, especially those whose health is already challenged due to tick-borne illness. We sincerely hope that you and your families are staying safe.

Based on guidance from the CDC and trusted health authorities, the GLA staff is working remotely. While we are not physically in the office, I want to assure you that we are working and here to support you. We have also asked our family of volunteers, including our Lyme education ambassadors, to postpone all live, in-person education programs for the time being.

Virtual and online resources:

  • Virtual support groups. If you regularly attend in-person support groups, consider finding an online group, or ask your local group if they will be conducting meetings virtually
  • Peer mentor support. GLA offers free peer-to-peer mentor support for patients and caregivers. Learn more if you’re interested in finding a mentor to connect with or would like to volunteer as a mentee.
  • Engage in social communities to connect with others in the Lyme community: Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

On a final note, while we navigate social distancing, many health experts are recommending people go outside for fresh air and exercise. Getting outside is a great idea, but as ticks are already out in force, remember to Be Tick AWARE™, whether you’re walking to your mailbox, going to the park, or out for a hike.

Most importantly, take care of yourself and your family. We will get through this together.

Please feel free to reach out to our team if we may be of any assistance.
Web: GLA.org
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 203-969-1333





Scott Santarella
Global Lyme Alliance