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Do antibody positive healthcare workers have lower SARS-CoV-2 infection rates than antibody negative healthcare workers? Large multi-centre prospective cohort study (the SIREN study), England: June to November 2020

By Victoria Jane Hall, Sarah Foulkes, Andre Charlett, Ana Atti, Edward JM Monk, Ruth Simmons, Edgar Wellington, Michelle J Cole, Ayoub Saei, Blanche Oguti, Katie Munro, Sarah Wallace, Peter D Kirwan, Madhumita Shrotri, Amoolya Vusirikala, Sakib Rokadiya, Meaghan Kall, Maria Zambon, Mary Ramsay, Tim Brooks, SIREN Sudy Group, Colin S. Brown, Meera A Chand, Susan Hopkins

Posted 15 Jan 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.13.21249642

Background: There is an urgent need to better understand whether individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected from future SARS-CoV-2 infection. Methods: A large multi-centre prospective cohort was recruited from publicly funded hospital staff in the UK. Participants attended regular SARS-CoV-2 PCR and antibody testing (every 2-4 weeks) and completed fortnightly questionnaires on symptoms and exposures. At enrolment, participants were assigned to either the positive cohort (antibody positive or prior PCR/antibody test positive) or negative cohort (antibody negative, not previously known to be PCR/antibody positive). Potential reinfections were clinically reviewed and classified according to case definitions (confirmed, probable, possible (subdivided by symptom-status)) depending on hierarchy of evidence. Individuals in the primary infection were excluded from this analysis if infection was confirmed by antibody only. Reinfection rates in the positive cohort were compared against new PCR positives in the negative cohort using a mixed effective multivariable logistic regression analysis. Findings: Between 18 June and 09 November 2020, 44 reinfections (2 probable, 42 possible) were detected in the baseline positive cohort of 6,614 participants, collectively contributing 1,339,078 days of follow-up. This compares with 318 new PCR positive infections and 94 antibody seroconversions in the negative cohort of 14,173 participants, contributing 1,868,646 days of follow-up. The incidence density per 100,000 person days between June and November 2020 was 3.3 reinfections in the positive cohort, compared with 22.4 new PCR confirmed infections in the negative cohort. The adjusted odds ratio was 0.17 for all reinfections (95% CI 0.13-0.24) compared to PCR confirmed primary infections. The median interval between primary infection and reinfection was over 160 days. Interpretation: A prior history of SARS-CoV-2 infection was associated with an 83% lower risk of infection, with median protective effect observed five months following primary infection. This is the minimum likely effect as seroconversions were not included. Funding: Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England, with contributions from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments.

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