Obesity, age and BAME ethnicity associated with higher COVID-19 antibody levels

Researchers studying a group of UK healthcare workers discovered that non-white individuals recovering from COVID-19 displayed higher antibody levels than white individuals, with significantly greater levels observed in Asian individuals.

Led by experts at the University of Birmingham, the researchers studied a cohort of 956 UK healthcare workers who self-isolated between March and June 2020 because of COVID-19.

Within this group, the researchers identified 442 (46.2%) individuals with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies using a sensitive combined IgG,A,M antibody test developed in collaboration with The Binding Site and also individual antibody tests.

They also discovered that increasing age was associated with a higher IgG response, with antibodies in individuals aged 56-65 significantly higher than those aged 26-35.

Researchers from the Universities of Birmingham, Oxford and Southampton also noted a strong association between obesity and IgG response which increased in proportion to Body Mass Index (BMI). The group’s findings are published on the pre-print server medRxiv and have not yet been peer reviewed.

Study lead Professor Alex Richter, honorary consultant in clinical immunology at the University of Birmingham, commented: “We were surprised to find that risk factors associated with severe COVID-19 were also associated with higher antibody levels in convalescent health care workers after mild disease. We need to understand this observation and the role of antibodies in COVID-19 as this has implications for vaccination and convalescent plasma as a treatment.”

The study also revealed that a considerable number of working days were lost to staff members isolating for symptoms that were not proven to be COVID-19, highlighting the importance of testing. The combination of cough, fever or loss of smell captured 92.3% of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19—validating these symptoms as an effective way of determining who should self-isolate.

The research team also discovered that most COVID-19 antibody positive hospital workers suffered their illness prior to patients being admitted to hospital in large numbers, highlighting the importance of both community and hospital transmission of the virus.

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