Global seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies: A systematic review and meta-analysis

PLoS One. 2021 Jun 23;16(6):e0252617. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0252617. eCollection 2021.


Background: Many studies report the seroprevalence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) antibodies. We aimed to synthesize seroprevalence data to better estimate the level and distribution of SARS-CoV-2 infection, identify high-risk groups, and inform public health decision making.

Methods: In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we searched publication databases, preprint servers, and grey literature sources for seroepidemiological study reports, from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. We included studies that reported a sample size, study date, location, and seroprevalence estimate. We corrected estimates for imperfect test accuracy with Bayesian measurement error models, conducted meta-analysis to identify demographic differences in the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, and meta-regression to identify study-level factors associated with seroprevalence. We compared region-specific seroprevalence data to confirmed cumulative incidence. PROSPERO: CRD42020183634.

Results: We identified 968 seroprevalence studies including 9.3 million participants in 74 countries. There were 472 studies (49%) at low or moderate risk of bias. Seroprevalence was low in the general population (median 4.5%, IQR 2.4-8.4%); however, it varied widely in specific populations from low (0.6% perinatal) to high (59% persons in assisted living and long-term care facilities). Median seroprevalence also varied by Global Burden of Disease region, from 0.6% in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania to 19.5% in Sub-Saharan Africa (p<0.001). National studies had lower seroprevalence estimates than regional and local studies (p<0.001). Compared to Caucasian persons, Black persons (prevalence ratio [RR] 3.37, 95% CI 2.64-4.29), Asian persons (RR 2.47, 95% CI 1.96-3.11), Indigenous persons (RR 5.47, 95% CI 1.01-32.6), and multi-racial persons (RR 1.89, 95% CI 1.60-2.24) were more likely to be seropositive. Seroprevalence was higher among people ages 18-64 compared to 65 and over (RR 1.27, 95% CI 1.11-1.45). Health care workers in contact with infected persons had a 2.10 times (95% CI 1.28-3.44) higher risk compared to health care workers without known contact. There was no difference in seroprevalence between sex groups. Seroprevalence estimates from national studies were a median 18.1 times (IQR 5.9-38.7) higher than the corresponding SARS-CoV-2 cumulative incidence, but there was large variation between Global Burden of Disease regions from 6.7 in South Asia to 602.5 in Sub-Saharan Africa. Notable methodological limitations of serosurveys included absent reporting of test information, no statistical correction for demographics or test sensitivity and specificity, use of non-probability sampling and use of non-representative sample frames.

Discussion: Most of the population remains susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Public health measures must be improved to protect disproportionately affected groups, including racial and ethnic minorities, until vaccine-derived herd immunity is achieved. Improvements in serosurvey design and reporting are needed for ongoing monitoring of infection prevalence and the pandemic response.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 Serological Testing
  • Child
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Middle Aged
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Viral

Grant support

This research was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada through Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force ( DAC reports personal fees from Oxford University Innovation, Biobeats (, and Sensyne Health. MPC reports grants from McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity and grants from Canadian Institutes of Health Research during the conduct of the study. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.