Three quarters of people who live with a coronavirus sufferer may develop ‘silent’ immunity not detected by antibody tests, study finds
- The number who have suffered Covid-19 may have been hugely underestimated
- Tests are looking for antibodies in blood rather than the body’s ‘memory’ T cells
- 6 out of 8 people living with Covid-19 sufferers tested negative for antibodies
- They had suffered Covid-19 with mild symptoms, T cell immunity tests found
Up to three quarters of people in a household may develop ‘silent’ immunity to coronavirus when one is infected, a study has shown.
The number who have suffered Covid-19 may have been hugely underestimated because tests are looking for specific antibodies in blood rather than the body’s ‘memory’ T cells that fight infection, experts say.
Six out of eight of those living with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 showed negative results when tested for coronavirus antibodies in their blood, scientists found.
Up to three quarters of people in a household may develop ‘silent’ immunity to coronavirus when one is infected, a study has shown (stock image)
Fall in daily death toll sparks hope that virus is on way out
Hopes rose that coronavirus is now in full retreat as no new deaths were recorded in London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland yesterday.
In total there were just 16 deaths across the UK, bringing the total to 44,236 since the pandemic began.
Other than on June 22, when only 15 deaths were recorded, it was the lowest daily toll since the start of lockdown in March and the first with no deaths at all in any of the three devolved nations.
The zero figure in London is a huge contrast with the peak of the pandemic, when more than 100 were dying in the capital every day.
North-west and south-west England also had no new fatalities. Those who did die in England were aged 42 to 93 and all had underlying health conditions. Yesterday’s figures also revealed that 352 more people tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the UK infections total to 285,768.
Daily hospital admissions dropped to single figures in most areas after peaking at 3,099 on March 31.
These figures also present a stark contrast to the 883 hospital admissions in London on March 29, shortly after lockdown started, and 776 in the Midlands on March 31.
The overall number of 47 fell below 100 for the first time since the start of data collection.
Ten cases in north-east England and Yorkshire and 11 in the Midlands marked only regions with hospital admissions in double figures.
But when experts tested their blood samples for T cell immunity – part of the body’s deep defences to infection, from white blood cells in bone marrow – they found that they had in fact suffered Covid-19 with mild symptoms.
Some patients’ immune systems appear to be ‘split’ by their response to the virus so that those with no antibodies in their blood react at a deeper level with a T cell response, immunology experts said last night. This raises the prospect of new checks for coronavirus that work to detect T cells in a similar way to tests for tuberculosis – with the potential for one lab to process hundreds of patients and get effective results within two days.
It is currently estimated that up to 10 per cent of the population may have immunity to the virus, based on blood antibody tests, which detect antibodies generated by blood B cells.
T cells are the body’s big weapon – released from white blood cells in bone marrow to kill viruses when the immune system needs more help.
The latest study from Strasbourg University Hospital in France looked at seven families because their corona blood tests were unusual.
‘Our results suggest epidemiological data relying only on detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may lead to a substantial underestimation of exposure to the virus,’ said researcher Professor Samira Fafi-Kremer.
The study involves a small sample and is yet to be peer reviewed but is being closely considered by immunologists. Professor Danny Altmann, of Imperial College and the British Society for Immunology, said there was growing evidence that Covid-19 immunity looked unusual, since some people were showing immunity from ‘memory’ T cells alone.
A normal response to a virus would be for antibodies in blood – from B cells – to also be present.
It means large numbers of those infected and who had mild symptoms may be reacting in a different way to the virus that leaves them ‘silently’ immune, because they cannot be diagnosed as having been exposed to Covid-19 by current tests.
The number who have suffered Covid-19 may have been hugely underestimated because tests are looking for specific antibodies in blood rather than the body’s ‘memory’ T cells that fight infection, experts say (stock image)