Artist impression of antibody immune response

Ethnicity, seniority impacts Covid-19 antibody prevalence among NHS staff

Healthcare workers from an ethnic minority background are more likely to have built up antibodies to Covid-19, according to new data from a team of NIHR-supported researchers.

The researchers also found that nurses, healthcare assistants and junior doctors were more likely to have higher levels of Covid-19 antibodies compared with their more senior medical colleagues.

The study, carried out by researchers at the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) East Midlands and NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, focused on hospital staff working at the University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) NHS Trust.

The trust is notable as being one of the largest, and most ethnically diverse, hospital trusts in the UK.

In May, it introduced a voluntary blood test to allow staff to find out whether they had developed antibodies against Covid-19.

The researchers were then able to determine which groups of staff were most likely to be ‘seropositive’ – meaning the person had detectable antibodies to a specific condition.

If a person has Covid-19 antibodies present, it means they have been infected with the coronavirus at some point.

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, Director of ARC East Midlands and Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, led the study, alongside Dr Manish Pareek, Associate Clinical Professor in Infectious Diseases at the University of Leicester.

Professor Khunti said: “There’s still so much to learn about Covid-19. Given that evidence has already shown there is an increased risk of infection and adverse outcomes in minority ethnic groups, there is an urgent need to understand whether antibody prevalence differs according to ethnicity and other demographic factors including job roles in hospital staff.”

Dr Pareek added: “We discovered that as well as ethnicity, specialty and seniority among NHS staff also impacted antibody prevalence.

“For example, the anaesthetics and intensive care unit (ICU) teams were less likely to be seropositive than emergency and acute medicine staff.

“This could be because of the level of exposure each team has had to infected people when treating patients.”

Evidence has emerged throughout the pandemic that age, gender, deprivation, certain chronic conditions, obesity and race can significantly impact the outcome of the condition for patients.

There have been reports of increased infection rates, morbidity and mortality in ethnic minority healthcare workers, which led to new guidance on risk assessments for NHS staff being issued.

A national NIHR-funded study, UK-REACH, led by Dr Pareek is also urgently investigating the increased risk of Covid-19 among ethnic minority healthcare workers.

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