The term “serology” is commonly used to refer to two things. First, it is a branch of science that deals with serums, especially blood serums. Second, the term is used to refer to serological testing. Serology is used for health care and in criminal investigations.
To understand the term, it is best to have a basic understanding of antigens and antibodies. Dalhousie University defines an antigen as “a substance capable of inducing a specific immune response” and notes that antigens are often foreign proteins or partial proteins that enter the body via an infection. It is easy to think of antibodies as targeted solutions. An antibody can identify a certain antigen, connect to it, and prevent that antigen from producing the effect it otherwise would.
Serology is often defined as the study of blood serum. Blood serum is the clear portion of blood that can be found in a vial if blood is left standing long enough to separate. However, this is only one part of the field. It is also possible to use this science to study other fluids. This science is commonly used for health care purposes.
In this regard, there are several objectives such testing can fulfill. To begin with, it can be used to diagnose infection. However, in some cases, the test results will show a person has been exposed to certain antigens but does not have an active infection. In these instances, such testing can be used to prevent infection. Furthermore, a serology test can determine if a person who has previously had contact with certain antigens is immune to a recurrence of the infection.
Serological testing may be used for conditions such as syphilis, HIV, and viral arthritis. In addition, this science and the related testing methods can be used to determine blood type and analyze semen and saliva. This makes it a useful technique in criminal investigations, from which a branch of the science known as forensic serology has developed.
Although the work of a serologist analyzing a substance may be complex, as a patient, having serological testing performed is rather simple. Blood is drawn and sent to a laboratory. The risks associated with serology are generally common and minor. These include lightheadness, hematoma, and infection. Special preparations for such testing are usually not required.
Serological testing techniques such as precipitation, complement-fixation, or fluorescent antibody are used in the laboratory to analyze the reaction between certain antigens and antibodies. When a person is not suffering from an illness, the serum tests will show that no antibodies are present in her blood. If antibodies are found, this means a person has likely been exposed to the antigen.