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Unexplained longitudinal variability in COVID-19 antibody status by Lateral Flow Immuno-Antibody testing

By Katrina A S Davis, Carolin Oetzmann, Ewan Carr, Michael Malim, Vanessa J Boshell, Grace Lavelle, Daniel J Leightley, Catherine Polling, Sharon Stevelink, Valentina Vitiello, Alice Wickersham, Reza Razavi, Matthew H Hotopf, KCL-CHECK team

Posted 26 Aug 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.08.23.21261638

Background COVID-19 antibody testing allows population studies to classify participants by previous SARS-CoV-2 infection status. Home lateral flow immune-antibody testing devices offer a very convenient way of doing this, but relatively little is known about how measurement and antibody variability will affect consistency in results over time. We examined consistency by looking at the outcome of two tests three months apart while COVID-19 infection rates were low (summer 2020 in the UK). Methods The KCL-Coronavirus Health and Experiences in Colleagues at King's is an occupational cohort of staff and postgraduate research students. Lateral flow immune-antibody testing kits were sent to participant's homes in late June 2020 and late September 2020. Participants also completed regular surveys that included asking about COVID-19 symptoms and whether they thought they had been infected. Results We studied 1489 participants returned valid results in both June and September (59% of those sent kits). Lateral flow immune-antibody test was positive for 7.2% in June and 5.9% in September, with 3.9% positive in both. Being more symptomatic or suspecting infection increased the probability of ever being positive. Of those positive in June, 46% (49/107) were negative in September (seroreversion), and this was similar regardless of symptom characteristics, suspicion, and timing of possible infection. A possible outlier was those aged over 55 years, where only 3 of 13 (23%) had seroreversion. Discussion These results do not follow the pattern reported from studies specifically designed to monitor seropositivity, which have found greater consistency over time and the influence of presence, timing and severity of symptoms on seroreversion. We suggest several factors that may have contributed to this difference: our low bar in defining initial seropositivity (single test); a non-quantitative test known to have relatively low sensitivity; participants carrying out testing. We would encourage other studies to use these real-world performance characteristics alongside those from laboratory studies to plan and analyse any antibody testing.

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