Background: Systematic screening for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 is a crucial tool for surveillance of the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Salamanca (USAL) in Spain designed a project called "DIANCUSAL" (Diagnosis of New Coronavirus, COVID-19, in University of Salamanca) to measure antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 among its ~34,000 students and academic staff, as the influence of the university community in the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in the city of Salamanca and neighboring towns hosting USAL campuses could be substantial.
Objective: The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among USAL students, professors and staff and to evaluate the demographic, academic, clinical and lifestyle and behavioral factors related to seropositivity.
Methodology: The DIANCUSAL study is an ongoing university population-based cross-sectional study, with the work described herein conducted from July-October 2020. All USAL students, professors and staff were invited to complete an anonymized questionnaire. Seroprevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies was detected and quantified by using chemiluminescent assays for IgG and IgM.
Principal findings: A total of 8197 (24.71%) participants were included. The mean age was 31.4 (14.5 SD) years, and 66.0% of the participants were female. The seroprevalence was 8.25% overall and was highest for students from the education campus (12.5%) and professors from the biomedical campus (12.6%), with significant differences among faculties (p = 0.006). Based on the questionnaire, loss of smell and fever were the symptoms most strongly associated with seropositivity, and 22.6% of seropositive participants were asymptomatic. Social distancing was the most effective hygiene measure (p = 0.0007). There were significant differences in seroprevalence between participants with and without household exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (p = 0.0000), but not between students who lived in private homes and those who lived in dormitories. IgG antibodies decreased over time in the participants with confirmed self-reported COVID-19 diagnoses.
Conclusions: The analysis revealed an overall 8.25% seroprevalence at the end of October 2020, with a higher seroprevalence in students than in staff. Thus, there is no need for tailored measures for the USAL community as the official average seroprevalence in the area was similar (7.8% at 22 June and 12.4 at 15 November of 2020). Instead, USAL members should comply with public health measures.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; Salamanca; Spain; antibodies; screening; seroprevalence; university.