Discrepancy between frequent occurrence of COVID-19-like symptoms and low seroconversion rates among healthcare workers

J Med Virol. 2022 Mar;94(3):951-957. doi: 10.1002/jmv.27385. Epub 2021 Oct 18.


During the first wave of the pandemic, we compared the occurrence of subjectively experienced COVID-19-like symptoms and true severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) seroconversion rates among medical personnel in general practices. This cross-sectional study determined the SARS-CoV-2-specific immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody status of medical staff from 100 outpatient practices in Germany. Study cohort characteristics and COVID-19-like symptoms were obtained by questionnaires. The initial screening for SARS-CoV-2-recognizing antibodies was performed using a commercial chemiluminescence microparticle immunoassay. Positive results were controlled with another approved test. Samples with discrepant results were subjected to a third IgG-binding assay and a neutralization test. A total of 861 participants were included, 1.7% (n = 15) of whom tested positive for SARS-CoV-specific IgG in the initial screening test. In 46.6% (n = 7) of positive cases, test results were confirmed by an independent test. In the eight samples with discrepant results, neither spike-specific antibodies nor in vitro neutralizing capacity were detectable, resulting in a genuine seroprevalence rate of 0.8%. 794 participants completed the questionnaire. Intriguingly, a total of 53.7% (n = 426) of them stated episodes of COVID-19-like symptoms. Except for smell and taste dysfunction, there were no significant differences between the groups with and without laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 seroconversion. Our results demonstrated that only 0.8% of participants acquired SARS-CoV-2 even though 53.7% of participants reportedly experienced COVID-19-like symptoms. Thus, even among medical staff, self-diagnosis based on subjectively experienced symptoms does not have a relevant predictive value.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; antibodies; general practice; infection rate; seroconversion rates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral
  • COVID-19* / diagnosis
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Seroconversion
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin G

Associated data

  • DRKS/DRKS00021788