Today, Monday, 15th June, the HSE is issuing letters to more than 5,000 people inviting them to participate in the Study to Investigate COVID-19 Infection in People Living in Ireland (SCOPI). The seroprevalence study will measure exposure to COVID-19 infection in the population using an antibody blood test.

The letters are being sent to people in Dublin and Sligo. Those who participate in the study will be representative of the wider population. Dublin and Sligo have been selected as sample locations as they represent areas of the country with higher and lower known levels of infection respectively.

Using a representative sample of participants in both locations, it will be possible to provide an overall national estimate of infection in the Irish population. The intention is to repeat the antibody research in other areas of the country over the coming year.

Those who consent to take part in the study will be asked to complete a short questionnaire by phone. The questionnaire will be carried out by trained staff on behalf of the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

In addition to responding to a series of questions participants will be asked to provide a blood sample to test for antibodies. The sample will be taken by a phlebotomist in a local centre arranged by the HSE.

Participants will be provided with their individual results and those who are found to have antibodies for COVID-19 will be asked to take part in a follow-up study. This will include further questions relating to COVID -19 symptoms and involve three further blood tests over a 12-month period.

Serological tests measure the antibody response in an individual. Antibodies to COVID-19 are produced over several weeks after infection with the virus. The presence of antibodies indicates that a person was infected with the COVID-19 virus, irrespective of whether the individual had severe or mild disease, or even asymptomatic infection.

The study will add to our knowledge about how long antibodies last and what protection they may provide against new infection of COVID-19.

Dr Lorraine Doherty, HSE National Clinical Director for Health Protection said: “Seroprevalence studies are really important to help us understand the true level of infection in the population. When the results are available, we will have valuable information on the level of infection by age group and also the extent of asymptomatic infection, informing our national public health responses to COVID-19.”

Tests taken as part of the study are not diagnostic tests designed to confirm current infection for an individual. They are tests designed to estimate COVID-19 infection at a population level. The presence of antibodies may not equate to immunity from future SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Initial results are expected in late August and will enable HPSC estimate the level or prevalence of infection of COVID-19 in the population across different age groups.

Dr Cillian de Gascun, Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, added: “The antibody test we are using has recently been shown in international studies to be both sensitive, in that it detects the majority of people with antibodies, and specific in that a positive test is an accurate reflection of infection. The main benefit of this testing is at the population level; individuals will be advised not to use their result as a basis for clinical decisions about diagnosis or management.”

To ensure that we include people of all ages, both males and females, who broadly represent the wider population, the statistical technique of selecting a random sample of the population has been chosen. Therefore, the study is not open to volunteers from the general public and the HSE encourages those who receive a letter to consider participating. This is an important study and those who participate are contributing to essential research that is of benefit to society, and helping with the national pandemic response.

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