Coronavirus: How Many Have Been Infected? RKI starts nationwide antibody studies

Coronavirus: How Many Have Been Infected? RKI starts nationwide antibody studies

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COVID-19: How Many People Have Been Infected?

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) plans to determine the actual spread of the coronavirus in the population and the proportion of people who may already be immune in several large-scale antibody studies. The first will start next week.

In the planned studies, the scientists at the Robert Koch Institute are trying to determine how widespread the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is in Germany, how many people have already been through an infection and what proportion has now been at least for a certain time is immune. Important information that is missing so far, but that will have a major impact on the future course of the pandemic.

High number of unreported infections

All infections with SARS-CoV-2 in Germany are notifiable, but a significant number of unreported cases can be assumed, since not all infected people develop symptoms that are so severe that they seek medical help. The RKI explains that infections with the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus are often mild or completely without symptoms.

PCR test does not detect antibodies

In addition, if an acute infection is suspected, so-called PCR tests are currently used, which look for the genetic makeup of the virus (usually in a throat swab). The extent to which antibodies have already been formed is irrelevant to the tests.

Antibodies develop one to two weeks after infection

However, tests for the detection of antibodies are now available that can detect a previous infection. The antibodies can be detected at the earliest one to two weeks after infection. The RKI will use these tests to gain more insight into the outbreak in various studies.

Examination of blood donations

For example, from next week onwards, serological examinations of 5,000 blood samples are to be carried out every 14 days in cooperation with the blood donation services in order to draw conclusions about the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the population. "First results are expected in early May 2020," said the RKI. When it comes to laboratory analysis, the RKI works closely with the Institute for Virology at the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, headed by Prof. Christian Drosten.

Hotspot studies for COVID-19

The RKI is also planning "seroepidemiological studies in several particularly affected locations (" hotspots ") in Germany." For this purpose, around 2,000 participants aged 18 and over are examined several times in each location and, in addition, include clinical symptoms, previous illnesses, health behavior, living conditions and mental health questioned. According to the RKI, the start of studies is scheduled for mid-April 2020 and the first results can be expected in May 2020.

The aim is to "estimate the immunity in the local population by determining antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in representative samples of the residents." The proportion of asymptomatic infections can also be better estimated and risk factors for a serious one can be identified Determine the course in the population. In the planning and implementation, the RKI works with researchers led by Prof. Gérard Krause from the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig.

Representative study with 15,000 participants

Furthermore, according to the RKI, a nationwide population-representative seroepidemiological study is planned, in which antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 are recorded in a nationwide representative sample. For this purpose, 15,000 people aged 18 and over are to be examined at 150 study locations across Germany, and the participants are also asked about clinical symptoms, previous illnesses, health behavior, living conditions and mental health. "The study is expected to start in mid-May 2020, and the first results are expected in June 2020," the RKI said.

More precise picture of the SARS-CoV-2 event

With the help of the planned studies, the RKI hopes to gain important information about the actual spread of the coronavirus, immunity, the proportion of asymptomatic infections, the death rate and risk factors for a severe course in the population. "From these studies, we expect a more precise picture of the SARS CoV-2 events in Germany," summarizes RKI President Professor Lothar H. Wieler.

"The results of the antibody studies are of great importance in order to assess the course and severity of the pandemic more precisely and to be able to better assess the effectiveness of the measures taken," said Prof. Wieler. (fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • Robert Koch Institute (RKI): How many people are immune to the new corona virus? Robert Koch Institute starts nationwide antibody studies (published April 9, 2020),

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