Finding undetected COVID cases

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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Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.
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