New blood test finds undetected COVID-19 cases

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As researchers are learning more about the longer-term effects of COVID-19, it has emerged that many more people have been exposed to coronavirus in Australia than have so far been detected.

The Australian National University (ANU) is predicting that the situation may be much worse than we realise after developing a new blood test that is capable of capturing previous exposure to COVID-19.

Associate Professor Ian Cockburn, who led the research, said they screened 3000 blood samples from healthy Australians just before Australia’s second wave of outbreaks and the results were alarming.

“Our best estimate is that around 0.28 per cent of Australians – one in 350 – had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 by that time. This suggests that instead of 11,000 cases we know about from nasal swab testing, about 70,000 people had been exposed overall,” Assoc. Prof. Cockburn said.

While those figures alone are startling enough, it is when the testing was conducted that is more concerning. ANU conducted its testing between 2 June and 17 July, which was prior to Melbourne’s outbreak that signalled the second wave of infections.

Australia’s actual number of reported COVID-19 cases is still under 27,000 and that takes into account all of the cases reported since the second wave.

From the 3000 samples screened, the blood test revealed that eight people were likely to have been previously infected after accounting for false positives.

No-one in the study had been identified as COVID-19 positive before the screening.

The researchers say that even with a conservative view of the results, the number translates to potentially around 30,000 people with the virus at that time.

The new blood test looks for antibody signatures in blood to find evidence of previous COVID-19 infection.

“When you get infected with SARS-CoV-2 your body mounts an immune response which largely consists of producing antibodies,” Assoc. Prof. Cockburn said.

“Our test measures those antibodies showing who has previously been exposed to coronavirus.

“Estimating how many people have had SARS-CoV-2 enables us to better understand the spread of the disease and how effective community testing is and can determine if there is evidence of herd immunity.”

Are you concerned that there may be more coronavirus cases out in the community than are now being detected by current testing methods? Do you think the possibility of so many cases going undetected provides good reason for state governments being so cautious with border closures?

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Written by Ben


Total Comments: 11
  1. 0

    This is no surprise. It’s good we’re learning more about the virus. I reckon this will go on for several years more.

  2. 0

    I suspect that these “cases” are asymptomatic and non contagious. The fact that some jurisdictions are weeks and in the case of ACT months without positive tests to me indicates that (unless your the Queensland Premier or Queensland Chief Health Officer who still deem ACT a hot hot spot) then your being paranoid about the remote possibility of getting positive symptoms from the COVID19 virus.

    Where states have very low numbers of positive tests then the other states should be opening up to them and only closed to genuine hot spots. With the exception of Melbourne and some areas of Sydney the country should be open to all (I have no problems with people being asked to show conclusive evidence of where they have come from as a condition of travel).

    • 0

      If you’re the Premier of Queensland, Alan, you have a very easy job. Hand over all of the decisions to the Chief Health Officer and assure the voters of Queensland that you’re there for them until the election. The Chief Health Officer advised that all those AFL people, the millionaires on the cruiser from Melbourne and all of those movie people are allowed in because they are rich and it’s all about the economy. Personally, I thought that studying medicine didn’t include advance economics but then what would I know.

  3. 0

    That means that people have had a small exposure and produced antibodies. It also means that border closures are doing us a disservice as with no exposure we have no antibodies and therefore are at risk of a full blown attack when borders open. Unless we are very diligent with our distancing, washing, and not touching our faces and masking in public places.
    Herd immunity is the way forward, not keeping us isolated from it.

    • 0

      The problem is that nobody knows yet how long immunity will last. Furthermore recent news is that this virus leaves damage to hearts, lungs and the liver.
      I’d rather not see people being put to that risk.
      Apparently you would not be unhappy about the number of old people who would die from that exposure.

    • 0

      Up front lady, could one not argue equally that the spread of low level infections due to small amounts of the virus will protect us more than getting it to blast our bodies and God bless the survivors?

      In which view, opening the borders would not allow that low level adaptation to occur as all cases would be strong cases, perhaps deadly cases.

      Perhaps softly softly treadee monkee, track the low level spread, bring in the occasional not seriously affected to help low level infection, (Verry carefully), until almost all have the low level response then bring in a few more, – isolated in areas that could be isolateable hot spots, – try again, etc??

      Careful, monitored, scientific method response, not the shit, tear, rip, or bust solution, but calm and reasoned on the ground testing, testing, testing, – move again, etc.
      whudya reckon?

  4. 0

    I would like to know if the common flu in its various forms have been st6udied as much as Covid. It amazes me how, when we seem to be seeing a light burning brighter and brighter at the end of the tunnel we get this kind news from the experts. Sorry but lets just get back to normal and live normal. The elderly are no more vulnerable than they always were. Politicians here have made us afraid unnecessarily and crippled our economy and businesses in the so called effort to stop deaths. It has gone on long enough.



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