Blood samples used for coronavirus surveillance

Routine samples from blood donations are being made available to monitor the spread of coronavirus.

9 June 2020

NHS Blood and Transplant is sharing blood samples with Public Health England to better understand the extent of spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the population.

These are extra samples which we routinely take when you give blood and use for mandatory tests to make sure your donation is safe for transfusion.

We are supplying Public Health England with a small number of random samples for surveillance to understand how many people in the population are likely to have had the virus since the start of the outbreak and how this is changing over time.

This information is being used to better understand how the virus has spread and to help manage the response to the pandemic.

These samples are chosen at random and are anonymous so we cannot let donors know if their sample contains COVID-19 antibodies. However, we are reviewing this and are looking at ways to match results to donors without breaking data protection rules.

The results so far are based on tests from 7,694 samples from blood donors aged 17-69 years in England.

Initial findings estimate that:

  • 8.5% of people had developed antibodies against COVID-19 by the end of May 2020
  • the figure was highest in London where it was 15.6%
  • 9.4% of men and 7.6% of women had developed antibodies against COVID-19
  • antibodies were most common in adolescents and young adults (10.2%) and least common in people aged 60-69 (6.3%)

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Heath England said:

“This data illustrates a slowing rate of new infections across April and May due to the impact of lockdown measures.

“The data helps us understand how the virus has been transmitted across different groups and regions. It suggests that younger adults were the first to be affected with the virus, which probably reflects patterns of social mixing in this age group. Infections in older people seem to have occurred slightly later, but still largely reflect transmission before lockdown.

“Data gathered over the coming weeks will help to better understand these patterns to help inform decision making to slow the spread of the virus.”

An NHS Blood and Transplant spokesperson said:

"Lifesaving blood donations are going further than before to help the NHS. Samples that we routinely take for our safety checks are now going on to be used in research, to better understand how many people in the population may have antibodies to the coronavirus.

"Blood donation continues to be essential to the NHS and this research does not change the way we collect, process, test or use your lifesaving blood for treatment."

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