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School of Public Health
College of Health Sciences, Makerere University

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 Seropositivity in South-Central Uganda, During 2019 - 2021

Background: Globally, key subpopulations such as healthcare workers (HCWs) have a higher risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2. In Uganda, limited access to personal protective equipment amidst lack of clarity on the extent and pattern of the community disease burden may exacerbate this situation. We assessed SARS-CoV-2 antibody seroprevalence among high-risk sub-populations in South-central Uganda, including HCWs, persons within the general population previously reporting experiencing key COVID-19 like symptoms (fever, cough, loss of taste and smell) and archived plasma specimens collected between October 2019 – 18th March 2020, prior to confirmation of COVID-19 in Uganda.Methods: From November 2020 - January 2021, we collected venous blood from HCWs at selected health facilities in South-Central Uganda and from population-cohort participants who reported specific COVID-19 like symptoms in a prior phone-based survey conducted (between May to August 2020) during the first national lockdown. Pre-lockdown plasma collected (between October 2019 and March 18th, 2020) from individuals considered high risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection was retrieved. Specimens were tested for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 using the CoronaChekTM rapid COVID-19 IgM/IgG lateral flow test assay. IgM only positive samples were confirmed using a chemiluminescent microparticle immunoassay (CMIA) (Architect AdviseDx SARS-CoV-2 IgM) which targets the spike protein. SARS-CoV-2 exposure was defined as either confirmed IgM, both IgM and IgG or sole IgG positivity.Results: The seroprevalence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in HCWs was 21.1% [95%CI: 18.2-24.2]. Of the phone-based survey participants, 11.9% [95%CI: 8.0-16.8] had antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. Among 636 pre-lockdown plasma specimens, 1.7% [95%CI: 0.9-3.1] were reactive. Conclusions: Findings suggest a high seroprevalence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 among HCWs and substantial exposure in persons presenting with specific COVID-19 like symptoms in the general population of South-central Uganda. Based on current limitations in serological test confirmation, it remains unclear whether pre-lockdown seropositivity implies prior SARS-CoV-2 exposure in Uganda.
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