German scientists start nationwide antibody study

REUTLINGEN, Germany (Reuters) - German scientists began a nationwide study on Friday to gain a better overview of the actual prevalence of the new coronavirus in the country’s population and test how well measures to prevent its spread are working.

The study by the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) will start by testing around 3,000 blood samples from residents in the southern German town of Reutlingen for antibodies created when immune system fights the coronavirus.

Scientists will conduct five different antibody tests on each sample. The study will take place over a period of one year, with additional blood samples being collected and tested again in selected districts across Germany four and eight months after the first survey.

Antibody studies, also known as seroprevalence research, are considered critical to understanding where an outbreak is spreading and can help guide decisions on restrictions needed to contain it.

Gerard Krause, coordinator of the study and head of the Department of Epidemiology at the HZI in Braunschweig, said the results will help better understand how long the antibodies stay in the body and allow policymakers to refine vaccination strategies.

The first results from the Reutlingen study are expected in the Autumn.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 446 to 195,674, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday.

Some people, however, are asymptomatic or only have mild symptoms so it can be hard to estimate the virus’s true prevalence.

In May, an antibody study by the city of Boston and Massachusetts General Hospital found 10% of the population had COVID-19 antibodies. The Spanish government ran a study showing exposure in 5% of people - suggesting 10 times the number of confirmed positive cases.

Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Thomas Escritt