Large COVID-19 study in Texas targets antibodies

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- UTHealth is teaming up with the Texas Department of State Health Services to survey people who may have COVID-19.

The Texas Coronavirus Antibody Response Survey, or Texas CARES, aims to enroll 100,000 people. The hope is to determine the proportion of people throughout the state who have COVID-19 antibodies to indicate past infection and the degree of immune protection.

This is one of the largest surveys of its kind in the country.

People exposed to COVID-19, symptomatic or not, may have developed antibodies, but there's still a lot of questions about antibodies and how much protection they provide against the virus.

"The assumption is that people that have antibodies have a certain degree of protection from the virus, but we really don't know how strong that degree of protection is," said Dr. Eric Boerwinkle, of UTHealth School of Public Health.

Dr. Boerwinkle says that's just one of the areas they're hoping to learn more about.

Another question is the number of people with antibodies.

"How frequent are people that have these antibodies? Is it 2%? Is it 20 percent? At the moment, we don't know. And the flip side of that is, how many people don't have the antibodies? Those are people who are still very susceptible to the infection," said Boerwinkle.

To get some answers, researchers are looking for survey participants from four groups: people in professions that interact with the public, teachers, children, and patients and staff at community clinics. They are looking for people in these groups for several reasons.

"Number one, it would give us a broad spectrum of individuals. Number two, we thought these would be individuals that would like to participate. They would be engaged and like to participate. And then number three, that they would be interested in participating over time," said Boerwinkle.

Dr. Boerwinkle says an important part of the study is to look at the frequency of the antibodies and how they change over time.

You can learn more about how to participate by going online. The survey just began and so far there's just under 1,000 participants.

"We've already been able to collect some data and the number is a little bit larger than 18 percent of the population across the state has antibodies. I'll be honest, that's a bit higher than I thought it was going to be but that's very early data, it's very early, it's very preliminary but it gives you a peek," said Boerwinkle.

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