Epidemiology of COVID-19 infections on routine polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and serology testing in Coastal Kenya

Nyagwange J, Ndwiga L, Muteru K, Wamae K, Tuju J, Testing Team C, Kutima B, Gitonga J, Karanja H, Mugo D, Kasera K, Amoth P, Murunga N, Babu L, Otieno E, Githinji G, Nokes DJ, Tsofa B, Orindi B, Barasa E, Warimwe G, Agoti CN, Bejon P, Ochola-Oyier LI
Wellcome Open Res. 2022;7

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Background: There are limited studies in Africa describing the epidemiology, clinical characteristics and serostatus of individuals tested for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. We tested routine samples from the Coastal part of Kenya between 17 (th) March 2020 and 30 (th) June 2021. Methods: SARS-CoV-2 infections identified using reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and clinical surveillance data at the point of sample collection were used to classify as either symptomatic or asymptomatic. IgG antibodies were measured in sera samples, using a well validated in-house enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Results: Mombasa accounted for 56.2% of all the 99,694 naso-pharyngeal/oro-pharyngeal swabs tested, and males constituted the majority tested (73.4%). A total of 7737 (7.7%) individuals were SARS-CoV-2 positive by RT-PCR. The majority (i.e., 92.4%) of the RT-PCR positive individuals were asymptomatic. Testing was dominated by mass screening and travellers, and even at health facility level 91.6% of tests were from individuals without symptoms. Out of the 97,124 tests from asymptomatic individuals 7,149 (7%) were positive and of the 2,568 symptomatic individuals 588 (23%) were positive. In total, 2458 serum samples were submitted with paired naso-pharyngeal/oro-pharyngeal samples and 45% of the RT-PCR positive samples and 20% of the RT-PCR negative samples were paired with positive serum samples. Symptomatic individuals had significantly higher antibody levels than asymptomatic individuals and become RT-PCR negative on repeat testing earlier than asymptomatic individuals. Conclusions: In conclusion, the majority of SARS-CoV-2 infections identified by routine testing in Coastal Kenya were asymptomatic. This reflects the testing practice of health services in Kenya, but also implies that asymptomatic infection is very common in the population. Symptomatic infection may be less common, or it may be that individuals do not present for testing when they have symptoms.