Infectious Diseases

Oxford Study: Half of the UK Population May Have Already Been Infected

Posted on 25 March 2020

New modelling by Oxford’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group suggests that COVID-19 was spreading within the UK for more than a month before the first cases were confirmed.

The Oxford study is based on a what is known as a “susceptibility-infected-recovered model” of Covid-19, built up from case and death reports from the UK and Italy. The researchers made what they regard as the most plausible assumptions about the behaviour of the virus.

Coronavirus may have infected half of UK population — Oxford study | …. (2020). Retrieved 25 March 2020, from http://archive.is/eMvwy#selection-1887.0-1887.270

The study paints a very different picture to Imperial college‘s model, which has informed much of the Government’s policy. The accuracy of the Oxford model has not yet been confirmed, but its implications could be huge. It suggests that only one in a thousand cases require hospitalisation (compared with the Imperial college estimate of one in twenty), and that up to half the UK population may already have had the virus. This means the UK would already have acquired substantial herd immunity – that is to say, enough people could be immune to the virus to significantly reduce its ability to spread.

Image result for herd immunity
Herd immunity is a goal of vaccination campaigns, but the same principal applies to immune memory acquired as a result of infection.

It is hoped that antibody testing can begin in the UK later this week. This will assess the level of immunity within the general population, and confirm whether there is evidence to support Oxford’s model. If confirmed, this could lead to social distancing measures being lifted sooner than anticipated.


References

Coronavirus may have infected half of UK population — Oxford study: http://archive.is/eMvwy#selection-1635.0-1642.0

Fundamental principles of epidemic spread highlight the immediate need for large-scale serological surveys to assess the stage of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic: https://archive.is/AC6pu

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