As the novel coronavirus continues to circumnavigate the globe, a growing number of people have floated the idea they may have unknowingly contracted SARS-CoV-2, particularly as more than three-quarters of those infected with COVID-19 appear to be asymptomatic.
Now, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is aiming to answer that question through a nationwide “serosurvey” – and researchers are asking for your help.
Scientists are aiming to collect and analyze blood samples from around 10,000 healthy volunteers who have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 to determine what portion of the population may have been infected and experienced mild symptoms.
“This study will give us a clearer picture of the true magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States by telling us how many people in different communities have been infected without knowing it, because they had a very mild, undocumented illness or did not access testing while they were sick,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID director, in a statement. “These crucial data will help us measure the impact of our public health efforts now and guide our COVID-19 response moving forward.”
Serosurveys are a method of testing blood serum from groups of individuals to determine the presence of antibodies. When the body is infected by a virus, it triggers the immune system to develop proteins known as antibodies, or immunoglobin, to fight the intruder. If a test yields positive results, it means the antibodies were created to fight a previous infection. Such practices have been conducted in studies for HIV and measles and rubella. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, researchers will be looking for two types of antibodies: anti-SARS-CoV-2 S protein IgG and IgM.
“An antibody test is looking back into the immune system’s history with a rearview mirror,” said Matthew J. Memoli, M.D., M.S., principal investigator of the study and director of NIAID’s Laboratory of Infectious Diseases Clinical Studies Unit. “By analyzing an individual’s blood, we can determine if that person has encountered SARS-CoV-2 previously.”
Currently, the most common way of counting COVID-19 cases in the US is through swabbing an infected person’s airways and using molecular analysis to identify an active infection, but this does not determine whether an individual was previously infected. The findings will help to determine how far the novel coronavirus has spread through the country without being detected and will help to identify at-risk communities and populations.
Those interested in participating must be over 18 from anywhere in the US and can enroll in the study by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Participants will issue consent to enrollment over the phone, attend a virtual clinic visit, and complete a health assessment. Blood samples can be submitted either in person or through an at-home blood microsampling technique, which will then be shipped to the lab. Those who have antibodies may be asked to complete additional tests to determine how their immune system responded, providing insight into why their cases were less severe.