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High seroprevalence of COVID-19 infection in a large slum in South India: What does it tell us about managing a pandemic and beyond?

6 May 2021

Overhead view of a slum in Bangalore, India

Professor Luc de Witte and colleagues from Bangalore Baptist Hospital have a new publication in Epidemiology and Infection which is a fully open access journal publishing original reports and reviews on all aspects of infection in humans and animals.

People living in urban slums or informal settlements are among the most vulnerable communities, highly susceptible to coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) infection and vulnerable to the consequences of the measures taken to control the spread of the virus. Fear and stigma related to infection, mistrust between officials and the population, the often-asymptomatic nature of the disease is likely to lead to under-reporting.

We conducted a cross-sectional study to determine the seroprevalence of Covid-19 infection in a large slum in South India three months after the index case and recruited 499 adults (age >18 years). The majority (74.3%) were females and about one-third of the population reported comorbidities.

The overall seroprevalence of IgG antibody for Covid-19 was 57.9% (95% CI 53.4–62.3). Age, education, occupation and the presence of reported comorbidities were not associated with seroprevalence (P-value >0.05). Case-to-undetected-infections ratio was 1:195 and infection fatality rate was calculated as 2.94 per 10,000 infections. We estimated seroprevalence of Covid-19 was very high in our study population.

The focus in this slum should shift from infection prevention to managing the indirect consequences of the pandemic. We recommend seroprevalence studies in such settings before vaccination to identify the vulnerability of Covid-19 infection to optimise the use of insufficient resources. It is a wake-up call to societies and nations, to dedicate paramount attention to slums into recovery and beyond – to build, restore and maintain health equity for the 'health and wellbeing of all'.

Read the full paper