UMass Chan Medical School Faculty Publications

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Horae Gene Therapy Center

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Article Preprint


Diagnosis | Immunology of Infectious Disease | Immunopathology | International Public Health | Microbiology | Virus Diseases


Background COVID-19 pandemic has a devastating impact on the economies and health care system of sub-Saharan Africa. Healthcare workers (HWs), the main actors of the health system, are at higher-risk because of their occupation. Serology-based estimates of SARS-CoV-2 infection among HWs represent a measure of HWs’ exposure to the virus and a guide to the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in the community. This information is currently lacking in Ethiopia and other African countries. This study aimed to develop an in-house antibody testing assay, assess the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among Ethiopian high-risk frontline HWs.

Methods and findings A cross-sectional seroprevalence study was conducted among HWs in five public hospitals located in different geographic regions of Ethiopia. Socio-demographic and clinical data were collected using questionnaire-based interviews. From consenting HWs, blood samples were collected between December 2020 and February 2021, the period between the two peaks of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. The collected sera were tested using an in-house immunoglobin G (IgG) enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for SARS-CoV-2 specific antibodies on sera collected from HWs. Of 1,997 HWs who provided a blood sample, demographic and clinical data, 50.5% were female, 74.0% had no symptoms compatible with COVID-19, and 29.0% had history of contact with suspected or confirmed patient with SARS-CoV-2 infection. The overall seroprevalence was 39.6%. The lowest (24.5%) and the highest (48.0%) seroprevalence rates were found in Hiwot Fana Specialized Hospital in Harar and ALERT Hospital in Addis Ababa, respectively. Of the 821 seropositive HWs, 224(27.3%) had history of symptoms consistent with COVID-19. A history of close contact with suspected/confirmed COVID-19 cases was strongly associated with seropositivity (Adjusted odds Ratio (AOR) =1.4, 95% CI 1.1-1.8; p=0.015).

Conclusion High SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence levels were observed in the five Ethiopian hospitals. These findings highlight the significant burden of asymptomatic infection in Ethiopia, and may reflect the scale of transmission in the general population.


Infectious Diseases, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, health care workers, Ethiopia, antibody testing, seroprevalence

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medRxiv 2021.07.01.21259687; doi: Link to preprint on medRxiv


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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License