Massive UK study finds coronavirus antibodies wane over several months

Rex Features The number of people with antibodies fell since lockdown measures eased. Pic Amer Ghazzal  Shutterstock

Rex Features The number of people with antibodies fell since lockdown measures eased. Pic Amer Ghazzal Shutterstock

These autoimmune reactions may be similar to lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, researchers say, and may explain the enduring symptoms of "long-haulers"-people who experience COVID-19 symptoms for many weeks or months after their bodies have technically cleared the virus".

The number of people who tested positive for antibodies fell by 26 per cent between June and September, a team at the Imperial College London found.

They latch on to the virus, and prevent it from attacking the cells of our body, and reaching our immune system.

Overall, samples from hundreds of thousands of people across England between mid-June and late September showed the prevalence of virus antibodies fell by more than a quarter.

In July, 60 in 1,000 people reported having antibodies.

Those for whom COVID-19 was confirmed with a gold standard PCR test had a less pronounced decline in antibodies, compared to people who had been asymptomatic and unaware of their original infection.

The rapid waning of antibodies did not necessarily have implications for the efficacy of vaccine candidates now in clinical trials, Imperial's Barclay said. It is also not yet known what level of antibody is needed for someone to be protected from infection or reinfection of Covid-19.

Asymptomatic Covid patients lose antibodies more rapidly, says study
They need to know that they can get reinfected and that they can give the infection to other people". The largest decrease was among those most at risk of developing a serious degree of Covid.

"We're already seeing in some of these communities, outbreaks tend to be more severe, and so I think they deserve perhaps potentially more attention, in part because they are understudied traditionally", Dr. Philip Awadalla, the project lead and national scientific director of CanPath, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

James Bethell, a junior health minister, called it "a critical piece of research, helping us to understand the nature of COVID-19 antibodies over time".

Serological tests involve testing the patient's blood for antibodies of a virus.

Research is still underway to determine how long antibodies are present following infection and whether the presence of antibodies provides protective immunity. Health and care workers, ethnic minority groups, and those living in deprived areas and large households also had the greatest burden of past infection.

The concept of "herd immunity" has always been touted as an alternative strategy for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, as opposed to lockdowns while awaiting development of a vaccine, however, there is mounting evidence that runs contrary to this proposal.

The evidence follows several studies published earlier this year from China, the United Kingdom and the U.S., which found that people's antibody levels declined sometimes as early as two months after infection.

The idea that COVID-19 herd immunity can be achieved naturally, by a large proportion of the population contracting the virus, has been debunked by a United Kingdom study showing that coronavirus immunity is short-lived.

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