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COVID-19 Antibody Study at FGCU Seeks Volunteers

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An Florida Gulf Coast University study to gauge asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 needs thousands of volunteers willing to have their finger pricked for a drop of blood.

If you’ve never tested positive for COVID-19 and you’ve never had symptoms of the virus, FGCU wants your blood.

The university is conducting a study that could help determine the infection rate and level of asymptomatic spread in and around Lee County.

The university needs thousands of volunteers over the age of 18 who have not shown any coronavirus symptoms and have never tested positive for COVID-19.

Undergraduate senior and health science major at FGCU, Sinead Garnica, is one of the 800 participants they have tested so far.

Garnica was interested to know if she was asymptomatic after never experiencing symptoms and never getting tested. “It was a little nerve wracking, but I got through it,” she said. “And I knew it was for a greater purpose.”.

“After we get your demographics and phone number, we do a finger stick,” Garnica said. “We draw one drop of blood, and then we start running the test right there and then.” Results take about 15 minutes and show whether the person who never felt sick had been exposed and possibly carried the virus.

Garnica works with FGCU’s Associate Dean for Research with the Marieb College of Health & Human Services, Krista Casazza, who leads the study. “Any research for improving our knowledge on COVID is important — specifically, the immense variability in the disease, leaves some people without symptoms.”

Casazza said she needs 4,000 asymptomatic volunteers to sign up for the free antibody tests.

People may be wondering whether or not they need to get the COVID vaccine, especially after finding out they have the antibodies.

Casazza said, “A study came out today suggesting those with antibodies may have full protection after one dose of the vaccine.”

The study was posted online on Monday, and researchers found that people who had previously been infected with the virus reported headache, fever and joint pain after their first shot more often than those who had never been infected.

According to the study, COVID survivors had higher antibody levels after both their first and second doses of the vaccine.

Dr. Anne Harner, Dr. Krista Casazza, and Dr. Scott Michaels received a grant award of $450,000 from the Lee County Board of Commission to conduct the antibody study, according to FGCU’s website.

Testing began in late November and continues through May, but that is only phase one of three.

The first phase includes the antibody test. The second phase is a comprehensive evaluation among healthy individuals that have recovered from COVID, which they will begin to enroll next month.

The third phase is an evaluation of the amount of virus shed in wastewater. Phases two and three are expected to be completed in June.

Robert Hawkes is the director of physician assistant studies at FGCU. He’s also become a Covid-19 spokesperson for the University since the pandemic began in March.

Hawkes said antibody studies are one of the best ways to find out how widespread the virus is, and that a lot of people are asymptomatic carriers. “They feel fine, if you test them they may test positive, but their viral load, what makes people sick, is low enough so they’re not getting symptoms, but it’s enough so if they sneeze and cough, they can potentially transmit it to someone else.”

Antibodies indicate whether or not your body has been exposed to the virus.

Hawkes said, “That’s your immune system building up the protection, the same concept of what we’re doing with the vaccinations.”

Because Covid-19 causes few or no symptoms, many people don’t know they’ve been infected. Or perhaps they were mildly ill before, and dismissed it as a cold or flu.

The team will be administering tests this week at the following locations and times:

2/5 FGCU Cohen Center 9:45 a.m. - 12 p.m.

2/6 Bella Terra 9:45 a.m. - 12 p.m.

2/9 Copper Leaf 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Dr. Casazza said they will come to any site in Lee County, on request.

Any places that are interested or anyone who would like to participate in the study, can email Krista Casazza at: kcasazza@fgcu.edu or call (239)590-7620.