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Osaka hospital offers own antibody tests to make residents feel safe before second wave

Doctor Sosuke Yoshikawa in charge of antibody tests at a clinic in Osaka's Joto Ward is seen showing how the test is carried out on June 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kondo)

OSAKA -- While a resurgence of novel coronavirus infections is feared, a hospital in this western Japanese city is among a growing number of private medical institutions conducting antibody tests independently.

Matsutani Clinic in Osaka carries out antibody tests for those who wish to know whether they have contracted the virus to ensure people feel safe, as not everyone can take timely polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests even if they have symptoms such as a fever.

Antibodies, which your body creates when it fights viruses, are protein produced by immune system cells. In antibody tests, blood samples are taken and analyzed to determine whether antibodies are present using a designated kit. However, there are still many unknown aspects, such as for how long novel coronavirus antibodies last inside the human body, or how effective they are.

Tents used for antibody tests are seen set up on the grounds of Matsutani Clinic in Osaka's Joto Ward, on June 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kondo)

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry antibody test carried out in early June on some 8,000 residents in the three prefectures of Tokyo, Osaka, and Miyagi, revealed that 0.1% of residents in Tokyo, 0.17% of those in Osaka, and 0.03% of those living in Miyagi had had the coronavirus. This revealed that the vast majority of people did not have COVID-19 antibodies, meaning that some residents may have contracted the virus and recovered without having undergone a PCR test.

Tents about 30 square meters in size have been set up for antibody testing on the grounds of Matsutani Clinic, an ear, nose and throat hospital in Osaka's Joto Ward. Testing takes place on Tuesdays and Fridays, in an area separated from regular patients. Doctor Sosuke Yoshikawa, 48, who is in charge of the antibody tests, commented, "There are many people who wish to know whether they have been infected or not in preparation for a second wave."

The clinic uses a testing kit that can detect both Immunoglobulin M (IgM), which indicates that one is currently infected with the virus, as well as Immunoglobulin G (IgG), which indicates that one had contracted the virus in the past. Once a small amount of blood is taken, the results come back in about 15 minutes. In addition, the testing space and waiting area are separated so that visitors do not need to fear coming into contact with other patients. Yoshikawa also wears a face shield, mask, and gloves, takes disinfection measures for each test, and is careful about preventing transmission.

Kits and face shields used in antibody testing are shown in this photo taken in Osaka's Joto Ward, on June 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kondo)

Clinic director Ryoichi Matsutani commented, "We have seen over a 60% decrease in patients that visit our clinic, as coronavirus infections have spread. Although business is difficult, we would like to work for worried people to feel safe, even if only a little bit, as a medical institution that handles local health care."

Matsutani Clinic accepts reservations for antibody tests on their website. A test costs 6,000 yen. Further inquiries can be made by phone at 06-6789-3366 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Satoshi Kondo, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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