Background: The progression and geographical distribution of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection in the United Kingdom (UK) and elsewhere is unknown because typically only symptomatic individuals are diagnosed. We performed a serological study of blood donors in Scotland in the spring of 2020 to detect neutralising antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 as a marker of past infection and epidemic progression.

Aim: Our objective was to determine if sera from blood bank donors can be used to track the emergence and progression of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic.

Methods: A pseudotyped SARS-CoV-2 virus microneutralisation assay was used to detect neutralising antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. The study comprised samples from 3,500 blood donors collected in Scotland between 17 March and 18 May 2020. Controls were collected from 100 donors in Scotland during 2019.

Results: All samples collected on 17 March 2020 (n=500) were negative in the pseudotyped SARS-CoV-2 virus microneutralisation assay. Neutralising antibodies were detected in six of 500 donors from 23 to 26 March. The number of samples containing neutralising antibodies did not significantly rise after 5-6 April until the end of the study on 18 May. We found that infections were concentrated in certain postcodes, indicating that outbreaks of infection were extremely localised. In contrast, other areas remained comparatively untouched by the epidemic.

Conclusion: Although blood donors are not representative of the overall population, we demonstrated that serosurveys of blood banks can serve as a useful tool for tracking the emergence and progression of an epidemic such as the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Cite as

Thompson, C., Grayson, N., Paton, R., Bolton, J., Lourenço, J., Penman, B., Lee, L., Odon, V., Mongkolsapaya, J., Chinnakannan, S., Dejnirattisai, W., Edmans, M., Fyfe, A., Imlach, C., Kooblall, K., Lim, N., Liu, C., López-Camacho, C., McInally, C., McNaughton, A., Ramamurthy, N., Ratcliff, J., Supasa, P., Sampson, O., Wang, B., Mentzer, A., Turner, M., Semple, M., Baillie, J., ISARIC4C Investigators, Harvala, H., Screaton, G., Temperton, N., Klenerman, P., Jarvis, L., Gupta, S. & Simmonds, P. 2020, 'Detection of neutralising antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 to determine population exposure in Scottish blood donors between March and May 2020', Eurosurveillance, 25(42), article no: 2000685. https://doi.org/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2020.25.42.2000685

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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