A new study of employees at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH) also shows that almost one in five of the employees surveyed has coronavirus at some point.
The study, which is the first of its kind conducted in a hospital in Ireland, looked at SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence among healthcare workers over a three-month period from July to October.
It was found that of the 1,200 employees involved, antibodies against Covid-19 were detected in 18 pieces.
This increased by 20 percent for employees with roles that involve more direct contact with patients such as nurses and doctors, while it decreased to 13 percent for employees with a less direct role with patients.
Prior to the study, 12 percent of the participants were diagnosed with Covid-19 at some point.
However, if the group with known infections was excluded, the seroprevalence among those who were never confirmed to have the virus was nearly 7 out of 10 in 7.5 percent – or about 88 people.
The study also found that more than half of these had suspected they were infected at some point, even though they didn’t test positive.
Dr. Anna Rose Prior, consultant microbiologist at Tallaght University Hospital, said the results show that high levels of Covid-19 infection in healthcare workers go undetected.
This supports the demand for universal mask use for all patient interactions during the pandemic.
This would both protect staff and minimize the risk of healthcare workers inadvertently passing infections onto patients.
“This study enables us to identify colleagues who develop a measurable immune response to Covid-19 and not.
“The study is a 12 month study, so we will track all participants who wish to stay in the study for 12 months and measure their antibody levels at multiple time points,” said Dr. Anna Rose Prior.
“This gives us two important pieces of information.
“The first is to understand how long a measurable level of antibodies against Covid-19 has been present in the participants, and second, how many employees develop antibodies during the coming waves of infection.
“I would also like to acknowledge the incredible work of the laboratory medicine team who spent their precious free time conducting the study during particularly busy times in the hospital,” she added.
Of the nearly 1,200 employees who participated in the study, 943 were female and 233 were male.
The participants represented around a third of the entire staff at Tallaght University Hospital.
The hospital said there was “a clear desire from staff to have their antibodies measured, and this drove the project somewhat as divisions and departments helped with the sampling to ensure their team members were involved.”
It was open to all hospital employees, including doctors, nurses, laboratory assistants, social workers, cleaning staff and electricians.
The study will last 12 months, so antibody levels will continue to be tested at different times for willing participants.
In August, the HSE published a study of Covid-19 antibodies in the Irish population that found 1.7 percent of them were present.
The study conducted by the Health Protection Surveillance Center (HPSC) estimated that 59,500 people in Ireland between the ages of 12 and 69 had Covid-19 by mid-July, three times as many as cases.
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