An at-home antibody testing study has revealed that around 3.4 million people in England have been infected with COVID-19.
The study, conducted by Imperial College London, found that people living in London, those working in care homes and healthcare, people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, and those living in larger households were most likely to have been infected.
The findings came from the world’s largest home antibody testing programme involving 100,000 volunteers.
Researchers used at-home antibody finger-prick tests to track past infections and monitor the progress of the pandemic.
The results show that just 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.
London had the highest numbers at over twice the national average (13%), while the South West had the lowest (3%).
The study found high rates in those with people-facing jobs in care homes (16%) and health care (12%), compared to 5% of people who were not key workers.
It’s still not known whether having antibodies to the virus stops people from getting COVID-19 again, but scientists say the study will help guide local public health responses, identify groups who may be at increased risk and inform actions to control the disease.
Professor Graham Cooke, NIHR Research Professor of Infectious Diseases and research lead at Imperial, said: “There are still many unknowns with this new virus, including the extent to which the presence of antibodies offers protection against future infections.
“Using the finger-prick tests suitable for large scale home testing has given us clearest insight yet into the spread of the virus in the country and who has been at greatest risk. These data will have important implications for decisions around ongoing control measures in England.”
Health Minister Edward Argar 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.
“We don’t yet know that antibodies provide immunity to coronavirus, but the more information we can gather on this virus, and the easier we can make it for people to participate in these studies, the better equipped we will be to respond.”