Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in university students: Cross-sectional study, December 2020, England

Amoolya Vusirikala*, Heather Whitaker, Samuel Jones, Elise Tessier, Raymond Borrow, Ezra Linley, Katja Hoschler, Frances Baawuah, Shazaad Ahmad, Nicholas Andrews, Mary Ramsay, Shamez Ladhani, Kevin Brown, Gayatri Amirthalingam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In England, the reopening of universities in September 2020 coincided with a rapid increase in SARS-CoV-2 infection rates in university aged young adults. This study aimed to estimate SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in students attending universities that had experienced a COVID-19 outbreak after reopening for the autumn term in September 2020.

Methods: A cross-sectional serosurvey was conducted during 02–11 December 2020 in students aged ≤ 25 years across five universities in England. Blood samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing were obtained using a self-sampling kit and analysed using the Abbott SARS-CoV-2 N antibody and/or an in-house receptor binding domain (RBD) assay.

Findings: SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in 2,905 university students was 17.8% (95%CI, 16.5–19.3), ranging between 7.6%-29.7% across the five universities. Seropositivity was associated with being younger likely to represent first year undergraduates (aOR 3.2, 95% CI 2.0–4.9), living in halls of residence (aOR 2.1, 95% CI 1.7–2.7) and sharing a kitchen with an increasing number of students (shared with 4–7 individuals, aOR 1.43, 95%CI 1.12–1.82; shared with 8 or more individuals, aOR 1.53, 95% CI 1.04–2.24). Seropositivity was 49% in students living in halls of residence that reported high SARS-CoV-2 infection rates (>8%) during the autumn term.

Interpretation: Despite large numbers of cases and outbreaks in universities, less than one in five students (17.8%) overall had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies at the end of the autumn term in England. In university halls of residence affected by a COVID-19 outbreak, however, nearly half the resident students became infected and developed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-111
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Infection
Issue number1
Early online date28 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Public Health England (PHE) UNICOVID team members and staff within Clinical Services Unit, PHE Colindale for laboratory support. We would like to thank all the universities that participated in this study and their staff who made this study possible. We would also like thank the Newcastle City Council Public Health Team.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2 infection
  • Students
  • Transmission
  • Universities


Dive into the research topics of 'Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in university students: Cross-sectional study, December 2020, England'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this