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Health Team

Antibody study shows more people infected with coronavirus in NC than numbers show

Posted June 18, 2020 5:08 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2020 6:58 p.m. EDT

— A state-funded study at Wake Forest Baptist Health shows nearly 10 percent of people tested in North Carolina have antibodies to the coronavirus.

The presence of antibodies means the people were likely previously infected, said Dr. John Walton Sanders, the chief of infectious disease for the Winston-Salem hospital, who is leading the study.

"We are getting very good evidence that most people who get infected are asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic," Sanders said. "Some of these people are feeling it a little bit – a scratchy throat, a little cough – but most of the people in our study had very few symptoms."

Far fewer people presented with more obvious COVID-19 symptoms, he said.

So far, about 5,000 people have been tested, and only about 0.4 percent had been identified by public health officials as having been infected, Sanders said.

"We can say that 10 to 20 times the number of people who have an identified case have antibodies to the infection," he said.

A person develops the antibody to coronavirus one to two weeks after infection.

“The vast majority of people that we’ve tested for antibodies, that have been positive, have had no or very little symptoms,” Sanders said.

While it is unknown how infectious asymptomatic people are, he said people should double down on their social distancing efforts.

“I’m not making any suggestion to the governor about what needs to be open or closing, but I am making a great plea to everybody that we take a lot of care of each other," he said. "We need to stay 6 feet apart. We need to wear masks. We need to stay away from our elders."

The research also shows that the number of coronavirus cases in North Carolina continues to climb.

“When we first started out, the number of people who had antibodies to COVID was very low in this area, certainly less than 2 percent, maybe less than 1 percent,” Sanders said of the findings in April and early May. “Now, we are at least at 8 percent.”