Understanding the spread of Coronavirus
COVID-19, an infectious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It has since spread globally, with the first cases identified in the UK at the end of January 2020. In this rapidly evolving pandemic, there is an urgent need to generate epidemiological insights into the determinants, characteristics and consequences of COVID-19 to guide public health strategy. UK Biobank is helping with this research in two major ways - making data available and the serology study.
Facilitating COVID-19 research
To facilitate rapid research into the determinants and consequences of COVID-19, we are making the following health record data available on a regular basis:
- Diagnostic COVID-19 test data
- GP (primary care) data provided directly by the system suppliers
- Hospital inpatient data
- Critical care data
- Death data
These health linkage data, combined with the extensive data already collected on lifestyle and genetic factors on UK Biobank participants will enable research into:
- The extent to which genetic factors are related to disease severity
- How sociodemographic and lifestyle factors, including underlying health conditions, are related to disease severity
- The longer-term morbidity and mortality outcomes for those individuals diagnosed with COVID-19
Serology study of SARS-CoV-2 infection
Thousands of UK Biobank participants are taking part in a major government study (funded by the DHSC) to measure the extent of SARS-Cov-2 infection in different regions across the UK:
- The study aims to assess the extent of infection in different population subgroups across the UK (e.g. by age, sex, region, socio-economic deprivation, ethnicity and whether they live in an urban or rural area).
- We will also use this information to assess the extent of infection over time, which will be of vital importance as the UK transitions out of lockdown.
- We will also be able to uses these data to better understand how long antibody levels persist following infection and whether this differs in different age groups. This will help to inform us about waning immunity following infection.
- We will also be able to assess what proportion of the population are symptomatic, and whether this changes by age.
- Because we have linked to medical records for all participants, we will also be able to investigate the association between antibody levels and disease severity and whether seropositive participants go on to develop a second COVID-19 infection (and how severe this is).
- The study started in May 2020. We are asking participants to provide regular blood samples (to measure blood antibody levels) and to complete a questionnaire (to assess COVID-19 symptoms).
- 20,000 UK Biobank participants and their children and grandchildren (aged over 18) are taking part in order to increase representation across all ages and regions of the UK.
- Participants taking part receive monthly collection kits for at least six months, and are asked to provide a fingerprick amount of blood (about 0.5ml) using a microsampling device. The samples are returned in the post using pre-paid protective envelopes and undergo validated antibody testing performed by the Target Discovery Institute, the University of Oxford.
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