Repeated population-based surveys of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in Southern Brazil


Population based data on COVID-19 are urgently needed for informing policy decisions, yet few such studies are available anywhere, as most surveys rely on self-selected volunteers. In the Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul (population 11.3 million), we are carrying out fortnightly household surveys in nine of the largest cities. Multi-stage probability sampling was used in each city to select 500 households, within which one resident was randomly chosen for testing. The Wondfo lateral flow rapid test for detecting antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 has been validated in four different settings, including our own, with pooled estimates of sensitivity (84.8%, 95% CI 81.4%;87.8%) and specificity (99.0%, 95% CI 97.8%;99.7%), which are within the acceptable range for epidemiological studies. In the first wave of the study (April 11-13), 4,188 subjects were tested, of whom two were positive (0.0477%; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.0058%;0.1724%). In the second round (Apr 25-27) there were six positive subjects (0.1333%; 95% CI 0.0489%;0.2900%). We also tested family members of positive index cases, and nine out of 19 had positive results. Testing of reported COVID-19 cases according to RT-PCR confirmed that the test was highly sensitive under field conditions. The epidemic is at an early stage in the State, as the first case was reported on Feb 28, and by Apr 30, 50 deaths were registered. Strict lockdown measures were implemented in mid-March, and our results suggest that compliance was high, with full or near full compliance rates of 79.4% in the first and 71.7% in the second round. As far as we know, this is the only large population anywhere undergoing regular household serological surveys for COVID-19. The results show that the epidemic is at an early phase, and findings from the next rounds will allow us to document time trends and propose Public Health measures.