Serological follow-up of SARS-CoV-2 asymptomatic subjects

Sci Rep. 2020 Nov 18;10(1):20048. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-77125-8.


SARS-CoV-2 symptoms are non-specific and can range from asymptomatic presentation to severe pneumonia. Asymptomatic subjects carrying SARS-CoV-2 often remain undiagnosed and it is still debated whether they develop immunoglobulins (Ig) and how long they persist. The aim of this study was to investigate the development and persistence of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in asymptomatic subjects infected by the virus. This follow-up study was performed on the 31 asymptomatic subjects who presented a positive nasal swab or serology against SARS-CoV-2 (Ig against Spike-RBD) in the first part of the UNICORN study (March 2020) aimed at attesting previous or current contacts with the virus in the personnel of the University of Milan. Eight weeks after the first Ig measure, these subjects were invited to donate a second blood sample for testing serum antibodies (IgM, IgG and total antibodies) and to fill-in a structured questionnaire. About 80% of asymptomatic subjects did not present circulating immunoglobulins against SARS-CoV-2 after 8 weeks from a positive nasal swab against the virus. Moreover, in more than 40% of these subjects, no Ig against SARS-CoV-2 were detected at any time. Finally, about two third of subjects with immunoglobulins at baseline did not present IgG against SARS-CoV-2 after 8 weeks. The majority of subjects who developed an asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection do not present antibodies against the RBD-spike protein after 8 weeks of follow-up. These data should be taken into account for the interpretation of the serological evidences on SARS-CoV-2 that are emerging nowadays.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Asymptomatic Infections*
  • COVID-19 / blood*
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / immunology
  • COVID-19 Nucleic Acid Testing / statistics & numerical data
  • COVID-19 Serological Testing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasal Mucosa / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / immunology


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2