Seroepidemiologic Study Designs for Determining SARS-COV-2 Transmission and Immunity

Emerg Infect Dis. 2020 Sep;26(9):1978-1986. doi: 10.3201/eid2609.201840. Epub 2020 Jun 16.


Serologic studies are crucial for clarifying dynamics of the coronavirus disease pandemic. Past work on serologic studies (e.g., during influenza pandemics) has made relevant contributions, but specific conditions of the current situation require adaptation. Although detection of antibodies to measure exposure, immunity, or both seems straightforward conceptually, numerous challenges exist in terms of sample collection, what the presence of antibodies actually means, and appropriate analysis and interpretation to account for test accuracy and sampling biases. Successful deployment of serologic studies depends on type and performance of serologic tests, population studied, use of adequate study designs, and appropriate analysis and interpretation of data. We highlight key questions that serologic studies can help answer at different times, review strengths and limitations of different assay types and study designs, and discuss methods for rapid sharing and analysis of serologic data to determine global transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; coronavirus disease; immunity; respiratory infections; seroepidemiologic; severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2; study design; viruses; zoonoses.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis
  • Betacoronavirus / immunology*
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / methods*
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Epidemiologic Research Design*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies*


  • Antibodies, Viral