Study on Irish healthcare staff immunity to Covid-19

New study on prevalence of Covid-19 antibodies in Irish healthcare staff across two hospitals

Staff at St James’s Hospital (SJH) in Dublin and University Hospital Galway (UHG) are being invited to participate in a new study aiming to determine the prevalence of anti-severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 Immunoglobulin G (anti-SARS-CoV-2-IgG) antibodies among hospital staff.

The Abbott test, which “has been independently evaluated by Public Health England”, is being used to detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in the blood.

“If we can ascertain the number of infections here in University Hospital Galway, which is in a low incidence area, and determine the areas of risk and then compare with St James’s in a high incidence area, we can learn about how the virus spreads in hospitals,” said Dr Catherine Fleming, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at UHG, and Site Lead for the PRECISE Study.

Blood testing begins next Wednesday (October 14) and continues until October 23 under the PRECISE study.

Prof Colm Bergin, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at SJH and Site Lead, said the results may provide valuable insights into how people may respond to any future vaccine.

While some hospital staff might discover that antibodies to the Covid-19 virus are found in their blood, Dr Niamh Allen, Primary Investigator and Specialist Registrar in Infectious Diseases, underlined that staff were to be advised that this did not mean that they had immunity to the virus, and should continue to follow all of the Health Service Executive’s (HSE’s) public health advice.

Anonymised results are to be shared with the Department of Health Covid-19 team and the HSE to help them plan and make decisions about how to control the spread of the virus. The study is to be repeated in six months and the data compared.

Participation is voluntary and open to all staff across all departments in both hospitals.

“The PRECISE Study aims to calculate the prevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies, or Covid-19 antibodies in healthcare workers in two hospitals in two distinct areas of the country,” said Dr Lorraine Doherty, National Clinical Director for Health Protection in the HSE.

She added that it would help the health service better understand this new infection, including the risk factors relevant to healthcare workers, for example, the areas they worked in and the type of patient exposure they had, as well as factors such as their sex, age and living arrangements.

The PRECISE study is intended to help estimate, in broad terms, the number of healthcare workers that may have some degree of immunity to Covid-19 infection, and those still at risk of contracting the virus.

Dr Doherty said it also aimed to identify the proportion of healthcare staff who had antibodies present but were asymptomatic and possibly unaware of their exposure to the virus.

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