Australian researchers have gone for COVID-19’s jugular, by creating a new, highly sensitive blood test to tell how many people have carried the virus without realising it.
Their initial research suggests many more Australians have been exposed to the virus than have so far been detected.
The Australian National University (ANU) team screened the blood of 3000 healthy people for antibodies to the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which are produced when a person’s immune system fights off the pathogen.
The new test detects whether or not these antibodies exist in the bloodstream, so can definitively show who has previously been infected.
The testing was conducted at between 2 June and 17 July 2020, ahead of Melbourne’s outbreak, and before testing had increased in response to the second wave.
ANU Associate Professor Ian Cockburn said the team estimated that about 0.28 per cent of Australians —one in every 350 — had carried the disease by that time.
“This suggests that instead of 11,000 cases we know about from nasal swab testing, about 70,000 people had been exposed overall,” Associate Professor Cockburn said.
“Estimating how many people have had SARS-CoV-2 enables us to better understand the spread of the disease and how effective community testing is, and can determine if there is evidence of herd immunity,” he said.
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