Cross sectional investigation of a COVID-19 outbreak at a London Army barracks: Neutralising antibodies and virus isolation

Hannah Taylor, William Wall, David Ross, Roshni Janarthanan, Liyang Wang, Felicity Aiano, Joanna Ellis, Madan Gopal, Nicholas Andrews, Monika Patel, Angie Lackenby, Richard Myers, Mary E. Ramsay, J. Yimmy Chow, Maria Zambon, Shamez Ladhani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Military personnel in enclosed societies are at increased risk of respiratory infections. We investigated an outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in a London Army barracks early in the pandemic. Methods: Army personnel, their families and civilians had nasal and throat swabs for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) by reverse transcriptase -polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), virus isolation and whole genome sequencing, along with blood samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. All tests were repeated 36 days later. Findings: During the first visit, 304 (254 Army personnel, 10 family members, 36 civilians, 4 not stated) participated and 24/304 (8%) were SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR positive. Infectious virus was isolated from 7/24 (29%). Of the 285 who provided a blood sample, 7% (19/285) were antibody positive and 63% (12/19) had neutralising antibodies. Twenty-two (22/34, 64%) individuals with laboratory-confirmed infection were asymptomatic. Nine SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR positive participants were also antibody positive but those who had neutralising antibodies did not have infectious virus. At the second visit, no new infections were detected, and 13% (25/193) were seropositive, including 52% (13/25) with neutralising antibodies. Risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 antibody positivity included contact with a confirmed case (RR 25.2; 95% CI 14–45), being female (RR 2.5; 95% CI 1.0–6.0) and two-person shared bathroom (RR 2.6; 95% CI 1.1–6.4). Interpretation: We identified high rates of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection. Public Health control measures can mitigate spread but virus re-introduction from asymptomatic individuals remains a risk. Most seropositive individuals had neutralising antibodies and infectious virus was not recovered from anyone with neutralising antibodies. Funding: PHE

Original languageEnglish
Article number100015
Number of pages10
JournalThe Lancet Regional Health - Europe
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the Army personnel and civilian at the Barracks who volunteered to take part in the enhanced outbreak investigations

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • SARS-COV-2


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