Asymptomatic Covid patients lose antibodies more rapidly, says study

Grant Boone
October 27, 2020

Vaccines against Covid-19 could still be effective despite a new study suggesting antibody levels fall "quite rapidly" after coronavirus infection, scientists leading the research have said.

"So although we are seeing a decline in the proportion of people who are testing positive, we still have a great majority of people who are unlikely to have been exposed".

Some scientists believe the part played by T cells - a type of white blood cell that helps the immune system fight viruses and which is linked with prior infections with common colds - may be more crucial in fighting the virus.

The number of people with antibodies fell by a quarter, from 6% of the population in June to 4.4% in September, according to a study which included some 365,000 United Kingdom residents.

Around 60 in 1,000 people had detectable antibodies, in the first round of testing which was held at the end of June, beginning of July.

The study will last 12 months so antibody levels will continue to be tested at different times for willing participants.

A non-peer-reviewed study of more than 84,000 people, led by Adam Hampshire, a doctor at Imperial College London, found that in some severe cases, coronavirus infection is linked to substantial cognitive deficits for months.

Dr. Claudia Hoyen, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at University Hospitals of Cleveland, thought the study was interesting and encouraging, since it suggests that at least where antibodies are concerned, this coronavirus acts like other coronaviruses.

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However, Professor Wendy Barclay from Imperial, who worked on the study, said there was still reason to be optimistic about a vaccine being able to stimulate longer-lasting protection.

Those aged 18-24 had the highest prevalence of antibodies and lowest decline in antibody levels at 14.9 percent.

He said that Germany's introduction of mass PCR testing - which indicates whether someone now has coronavirus but is slower than antigen tests - very early in the pandemic had a significant and lasting effect at dampening infection rates.

"This study enables us to identify colleagues who do and don't develop a measurable immune response to Covid-19". Likewise, the study says: "These data suggest the possibility of decreasing population immunity and increasing risk of reinfection as detectable antibodies decline in the population". Other studies have shown that different factors may impact how quickly antibodies decline. The largest reduction in antibody prevalence was among the oldest age group, 75 and above, at 39%, per the university release.

After a lull in the summer, Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director of Public Health England, said the trend in deaths was once again rising. When a virus attacks, the body first produces IgM antibodies, which indicate active or recent infection.

"When you think that 95 out of 100 people are unlikely to be immune, and therefore likely to be susceptible, then we are a long, long way, from anything resembling a population-level protection against transmission".

The team said that, even if a person tests positive for antibodies, they still need to follow national guidelines including social distancing and wearing face coverings. This data clearly shows that your antibodies go away.

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