Cross-Reactivity of Two SARS-CoV-2 Serological Assays in a Setting Where Malaria Is Endemic

J Clin Microbiol. 2021 Jun 18;59(7):e0051421. doi: 10.1128/JCM.00514-21. Epub 2021 Jun 18.


Accurate SARS-CoV-2 serological assays are critical for COVID-19 serosurveillance. However, previous studies have indicated possible cross-reactivity of these assays, including in areas where malaria is endemic. We tested 213 well-characterized prepandemic samples from Nigeria using two SARS-CoV-2 serological assays, Abbott Architect IgG and Euroimmun NCP IgG assay, both targeting SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein. To assess antibody binding strength, an avidity assay was performed on these samples and on plasma from SARS-CoV-2 PCR-positive persons. Thirteen (6.1%) of 212 samples run on the Abbott assay and 38 (17.8%) of 213 run on the Euroimmun assay were positive. Anti-Plasmodium IgG levels were significantly higher among false positives for both Abbott and Euroimmun; no association was found with active Plasmodium falciparum infection. An avidity assay using various concentrations of urea wash in the Euroimmun assay reduced loosely bound IgG: of 37 positive/borderline prepandemic samples, 46%, 86%, 89%, and 97% became negative using 2 M, 4 M, 5 M, and 8 M urea washes, respectively. The wash slightly reduced avidity of antibodies from SARS-CoV-2 patients within 28 days of PCR confirmation; thereafter, avidity increased for all urea concentrations except 8 M. This validation found moderate to substantial cross-reactivity on two SARS-CoV-2 serological assays using samples from a setting where malaria is endemic. A simple urea wash appeared to alleviate issues of cross-reactivity.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; cross-reactivity; malaria; serology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Malaria* / diagnosis
  • Nigeria
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Antibodies, Viral