Two-tiered SARS-CoV-2 seroconversion screening in the Netherlands and stability of nucleocapsid, spike protein domain 1 and neutralizing antibodies
Serological testing in the COVID-19 pandemic is mainly implemented to gain sero-epidemiological data, but can also retrospectively inform about suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection. We verified and applied a two-tiered testing strategy combining a SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain (RBD)-specific lateral flow assay (LFA) with a nucleocapsid protein (NCP) IgG ELISA to assess seroconversion in n=7241 individuals. The majority had experienced symptoms consistent with COVID-19, but had no access to
... no access to RT-PCR testing. Longitudinal follow-up in n=97 LFA+ individuals was performed up to 20 weeks after initial infection using NCP and spike protein S1 domain (S1) IgG ELISAs and a surrogate virus neutralization test (sVNT). Individuals reporting symptoms from January 2020 onwards showed seroconversion, as did a considerable proportion of asymptomatic individuals. Seroconversion for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals was higher in an area with a known infection cluster compared to a low incidence area. Overall, 94% of individuals with a positive IgG result by LFA were confirmed by NCP ELISA. The proportion of ELISA-confirmed LFA results declined over time, in line with contracting NCP IgG titers during longitudinal follow-up. Neutralizing antibody activity was considerably more stable than S1 and NCP IgG titers, and both reach a plateau after approximately 100 days. The sVNT proved to be not only highly specific, but also more sensitive than the specificity-focussed two-tiered serology approach. Our results demonstrate the high specificity of two-tiered serology testing and highlight the sVNT used as a valuable tool to support modelling of SARS-CoV-2 transmission dynamics, complement molecular testing and provide relevant information to individuals.