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SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the Southern Region of New Zealand, 2020


During New Zealand's first outbreak in early 2020 the Southern Region had the highest per capita SARS-CoV-2 infection rate. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing was initially limited by a narrow case definition and limited laboratory capacity, and cases may have been missed. Our objectives were to evaluate the Abbott SARS-CoV-2 IgG nucleocapsid assay, alongside spike-based assays, and to determine the frequency of antibodies among PCR-confirmed and probable cases, and higher risk individuals in the Southern Region of New Zealand. Pre-pandemic sera (n=300) were used to establish assay specificity and sera from PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 patients (n=78) to establish sensitivity. For prevalence analysis, all samples (n=1214) were tested on the Abbott assay, and all PCR-confirmed cases (n=78), probable cases (n=9), and higher risk individuals with ‘grey-zone’ (n=14) or positive results (n=11) were tested on four additional SARS-CoV-2 serological assays. The median time from infection onset to serum collection for PCR-confirmed cases was 14 weeks (range 11–17 weeks). The Abbott assay demonstrated a specificity of 99.7% (95% CI 98.2–99.99%) and a sensitivity of 76.9% (95% CI 66.0–85.7%). Spike-based assays demonstrated superior sensitivity ranging 89.7–94.9%. Nine previously undiagnosed sero-positive individuals were identified, and all had epidemiological risk factors. Spike-based assays demonstrated higher sensitivity than the Abbott IgG assay, likely due to temporal differences in antibody persistence. No unexpected SARS-CoV-2 infections were found in the Southern Region of New Zealand, supporting the elimination status of the country at the time this study was conducted.

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