Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies in University Students: Cross-sectional Study, December 2020, England

27 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2021

See all articles by Amoolya Vusirikala

Amoolya Vusirikala

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

Heather Whitaker

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

Samuel Jones

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

Elise Tessier

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

Ray Borrow

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England

Ezra Linley

Public Health England, Manchester Royal Infirmary

Katja Hoschler

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

Frances Baawuah

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

Shazaad Ahmaad

University of Manchester - Manchester Academic Health Science Centre (MAHSC)

Nick Andrews

Public Health England Colindale

Mary E. Ramsay

Public Health England - Immunisation, Hepatitis, and Blood Safety Department

Shamez Ladhani

Public Health England - Immunisation and Countermeasures Division; University of London, St. George's, Paediatric Infectious Diseases Research Group

Kevin Brown

Public Health England

Gayatri Amirthalingam

Public Health England - Immunisation and Countermeasures Division

Date Written: February 17, 2021

Abstract

Background: In England, the reopening of universities in September 2020 coincided with a rapid increase in SARS-CoV-2 infection rates in university aged young adults. This study aimed to estimate SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in students attending universities that had experienced a COVID-19 outbreak after reopening for the autumn term in September 2020.

Methods: A cross-sectional serosurvey was conducted during 02-11 December 2020 in students aged ≤ 25 years across five universities in England. Blood samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing were obtained using a self-sampling kit and analysed using the Abbott SARS-CoV-2 N antibody and/or an in-house receptor binding domain (RBD) assay.

Findings: SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in 2,905 university students was 17.8% (95%CI, 16.5-19.3), ranging between 7.6%-29.7% across the five universities. Seropositivity was associated with being younger likely to represent first year undergraduates (aOR 3.2, 95% CI 2.0-4.9), living in halls of residence (aOR 2.1, 95% CI 1.7-2.7) and sharing a kitchen with an increasing number of students (shared with 4-7 individuals, aOR 1.43, 95%CI 1.12-1.82; shared with 8 or more individuals, aOR 1.53, 95% CI 1.04-2.24). Seropositivity was 49% in students living in halls of residence that reported high SARS-CoV-2 infection rates (>8%) during the autumn term.

Interpretation: Despite large numbers of cases and outbreaks in universities, less than one in five students (17.8%) overall had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies at the end of the autumn term in England. In university halls of residence affected by a COVID-19 outbreak, however, nearly half the resident students became infected and developed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

Note: Funding Statement: This study was funded by Public Health England.

Declaration of Interests: The authors are all employed by PHE, the study funder, which is a public body — an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care.

Ethics Approval Statement: The study protocol was approved by the PHE Research Ethics and Governance Group – NR0245.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2 infection, COVID-19, universities, transmission, students

Suggested Citation

Vusirikala, Amoolya and Whitaker, Heather and Jones, Samuel and Tessier, Elise and Borrow, Ray and Linley, Ezra and Hoschler, Katja and Baawuah, Frances and Ahmaad, Shazaad and Andrews, Nick and Ramsay, Mary E. and Ladhani, Shamez and Brown, Kevin and Amirthalingam, Gayatri, Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies in University Students: Cross-sectional Study, December 2020, England (February 17, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3787684 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3787684

Amoolya Vusirikala (Contact Author)

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale ( email )

61 Colindale Avenue
London, NW9 5EQ
United Kingdom

Heather Whitaker

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale ( email )

61 Colindale Avenue
London, NW9 5EQ
United Kingdom

Samuel Jones

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

61 Colindale Avenue
London, NW9 5EQ
United Kingdom

Elise Tessier

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

61 Colindale Avenue
London, NW9 5EQ
United Kingdom

Ray Borrow

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England

Wellington House
133-155 Waterloo Road
London, SE1 8UG
United Kingdom

Ezra Linley

Public Health England, Manchester Royal Infirmary ( email )

Katja Hoschler

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

61 Colindale Avenue
London, NW9 5EQ
United Kingdom

Frances Baawuah

Government of the United Kingdom - Public Health England Colindale

61 Colindale Avenue
London, NW9 5EQ
United Kingdom

Shazaad Ahmaad

University of Manchester - Manchester Academic Health Science Centre (MAHSC) ( email )

46 Grafton Street
Manchester, M13 9NT
United Kingdom

Nick Andrews

Public Health England Colindale ( email )

Wellington House
133-155 Waterloo Road
London, SE1 8UG
United Kingdom

Mary E. Ramsay

Public Health England - Immunisation, Hepatitis, and Blood Safety Department ( email )

United Kingdom

Shamez Ladhani

Public Health England - Immunisation and Countermeasures Division ( email )

61 Colindale Avenue
London, NW9 5EQ
United Kingdom

University of London, St. George's, Paediatric Infectious Diseases Research Group

United Kingdom

Kevin Brown

Public Health England ( email )

Wellington House,
133-155 Waterloo Rd,
London, SE1 8UG

Gayatri Amirthalingam

Public Health England - Immunisation and Countermeasures Division ( email )

Wellington House
133-155 Waterloo Road
London, SE1 8UG
United Kingdom

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