Belleville Mayor Has Coronavirus Antibodies; Here's What It Means

Eric Kiefer

BELLEVILLE, NJ — Was Belleville Mayor Michael Melham among the first cases of the new coronavirus in the United States? There’s a good chance of it, he says.

On Thursday, Melham announced that he tested positive for antibodies related to the virus that causes COVID-19.

There are two types of tests for the new coronavirus: viral tests and antibody tests. The former indicates if a person currently has an infection. The latter may indicate that a person has had an infection in the past and has developed antibodies to the disease, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Last week, the World Health Organization said there is no evidence that people who have caught the disease in the past or have antibodies in their systems are immune from the new coronavirus.

Melham learned about the results during a visit to his primary care doctor on Wednesday.

The mayor said the surprising news made him think back to the New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City in November. Melham said he remembers driving back up the Garden State Parkway on Thursday, Nov. 21 and feeling awful, but writing it off as a mix of exhaustion and dehydration from the three-day event.

Melham thought a good night’s rest would be all he needed. But Friday and Saturday of that week were no better. By Sunday night, Melham was awake all night, battling chills, hallucinations and a skyrocketing temperature.

“I felt as if I was an addict going through withdrawal,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what was happening to me. I never felt that I could be so sick.”

READ MORE: NJ Coronavirus Updates (Here's What You Need To Know)

Melham’s doctor assumed that it was a case of the flu and told him that he’d recover with a few days of rest. But despite eventually getting better, the experience continued to stick out in his mind. And when COVID-19 began to break out in large numbers across New Jersey, it raised a serious red flag.

“I had always been suspicious that I had been potentially positive for coronavirus in November,” Melham said. “But I dismissed it because I kept hearing the first cases were in January 2020.”

Eventually, suspicion got the best of him and Melham went for a blood test. It’s a good thing he did, the mayor said.

“We all hear about how COVID-19 didn’t really exist here in the U.S. until January,” Melham attested. “That is obviously not the case. I am living, breathing proof that we were all dealing with it months earlier.”

Melham said that other people have told him they were also severely sick in November and December.

“My fear is that there are many who dismissed a potentially positive coronavirus diagnosis as a bad flu,” Melham said.

The mayor pointed out that people with coronavirus antibodies may have the ability to save lives by donating blood plasma for other COVID-19 patients as part of a new treatment for the disease.

Fully-recovered patients can donate through the Red Cross at redcrossblood.org, he said.

“It’s my hope that this antibody testing becomes more readily available,” Melham said. “My doctor only had 10 of these blood tests at his disposal and was willing to give me one because of my daily work with the public.”

“More and more testing is needed, so that more and more plasma can be gleaned to hopefully save many lives,” Melham concluded.

Here’s what the CDC had to say about antibody testing, as of Thursday:

“An antibody test may not be able to show if you have a current infection, because it can take one to three weeks to make antibodies after symptoms occur. We do not know yet if having antibodies to the virus can protect someone from getting infected with the virus again, or how long that protection might last.”

Send local news tips and correction requests to eric.kiefer@patch.com

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This article originally appeared on the Belleville-Nutley Patch