Risk factors, symptom reporting, healthcare-seeking behaviour and adherence to public health guidance: protocol for Virus Watch, a prospective community cohort study

BMJ Open. 2021 Jun 23;11(6):e048042. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-048042.


Introduction: The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused significant global mortality and impacted lives around the world. Virus Watch aims to provide evidence on which public health approaches are most likely to be effective in reducing transmission and impact of the virus, and will investigate community incidence, symptom profiles and transmission of COVID-19 in relation to population movement and behaviours.

Methods and analysis: Virus Watch is a household community cohort study of acute respiratory infections in England and Wales and will run from June 2020 to August 2021. The study aims to recruit 50 000 people, including 12 500 from minority ethnic backgrounds, for an online survey cohort and monthly antibody testing using home fingerprick test kits. Nested within this larger study will be a subcohort of 10 000 individuals, including 3000 people from minority ethnic backgrounds. This cohort of 10 000 people will have full blood serology taken between October 2020 and January 2021 and repeat serology between May 2021 and August 2021. Participants will also post self-administered nasal swabs for PCR assays of SARS-CoV-2 and will follow one of three different PCR testing schedules based on symptoms.

Ethics and dissemination: This study has been approved by the Hampstead National Health Service (NHS) Health Research Authority Ethics Committee (ethics approval number 20/HRA/2320). We are monitoring participant queries and using these to refine methodology where necessary, and are providing summaries and policy briefings of our preliminary findings to inform public health action by working through our partnerships with our study advisory group, Public Health England, NHS and government scientific advisory panels.

Keywords: COVID-19; epidemiology; public health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • England / epidemiology
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Factors
  • State Medicine
  • Wales / epidemiology