Major antibody study finds 3.4M in England had COVID-19

Henrietta Strickland
August 13, 2020

The antibody study tracked the spread of the deadly virus across England following the first peak of the pandemic in June-July and found that nearly everyone with a confirmed coronavirus case was found to have antibodies.

The findings, available in a non-peer-reviewed report submitted to medRxiv, show that slightly under 6% of the population had antibodies to the virus and had likely previously had COVID-19 by the end of June, an estimated 3.4 million people.

She told BBC Breakfast: "What was interesting (about the study) is that we can tell from people who reported not only having a positive test, but we also asked about their symptoms so we can actually track for most people - the 70% of people who reported symptoms - when they think they were infected". Prevalence of infections seemed be greatest in London, where 13% of people had antibodies, while minority ethnic groups were 2 to 3 times as most likely to have had COVID-19 compared to white people.

A total of 313,798 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Britain, 270,971 of which have been in England, or just 0.5 per cent of the English population.

Professor Graham Cooke, a co-author of the study, said: "There are still many unknowns with this new virus, including the extent to which the presence of antibodies offers protection against future infections".

Among the most likely to have been infected were care home workers (16 per cent) and health care staff (12 per cent).

In the wider population, 17 per cent of people from Black backgrounds and 12 per cent of people from Asian groups were infected.

"Right from the beginning, it was widely dispersed". The figure among white volunteers was only 5%.

London had the highest numbers at over twice the national average (13%), while the South West had the lowest (3%).

Katy Peters, of the London Vaccination Clinic, demonstrates a home antibody test kit, on client David Barton.

Smokers were slightly less likely to have antibodies than non-smokers - at 3% compared with 5% - while 32% of people with antibodies had shown no symptoms, a figure which rose to 49% of those aged older than 65.

The world is certain to have a coronavirus vaccine in 2021, if not within the next few months, the German health minister has said.

He said: "Large-scale antibody surveillance studies are crucial to helping us understand how the virus has spread across the country and whether there are specific groups who are more vulnerable, as we continue our work to drive down the spread of the disease".

A further two studies showed some antibody finger prick tests were both easy to use at home and accurate enough for use in mass surveillance studies.

It suggests that as many as 3.4 million people have actually had the virus - far higher than the tally of 315,546 cases now recorded by Johns Hopkins University.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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