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The CDC Just Issued This Big New Warning About COVID-19 Immunity

A very low portion of those tested had antibodies to the virus—even in some of the hardest hit regions. 

If you experienced any coronavirus symptoms over the winter or early spring, it may be easy to assume that you were infected with COVID-19. However, according to a significant new study, assuming that you have immunity to the highly infectious virus could be hazardous for your health as well as those around you. 

New data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published this week in JAMA shows that the majority of the country is still susceptible to COVID-19, with only a small number boasting antibodies against it. 

The Number of Infected People is Likely 10 Times Higher

As of mid-May, the CDC reports that the number of people who have been infected is likely 10 times higher than the 3.8 million reported cases reported—so it could be as high as 38 million.

However, according to their data, blood samples taken from over 16,000 people in 10 geographic regions, from New York to Washington state and Utah to Minnesota, a very low portion of those tested had antibodies to the virus—even in some of the hardest hit regions. 

For example, in the San Francisco area, around 1 percent of the population had the antibody, while in New York, the epicenter of the virus at the time, the percentage went up to 6.9. Researchers point out that these numbers may have gone up due to the recent surge of cases. 

Researchers also pointed out that undercounting cases varied by region. For example, in Connecticut, the actual number of cases was six times the reported number, while in Missouri, the actual number of cases was a whopping 24 times the number reported. 

"The findings may reflect the number of persons who had mild or no illness, or who did not seek medical care or undergo testing but who still may have contributed to ongoing virus transmission in the population," the study's authors wrote.

"Most of us are likely still very vulnerable to this virus and we have a long way to go to control it," Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Washington Post. "This study should put to bed any further argument that we should allow this virus to rip through our communities in order to achieve herd immunity."

Herd Immunity Not Effective For Now

In an editorial accompanying the study, Tyler S. Brown and Rochelle Walensky, infectious-disease specialists at Massachusetts General Hospital also warned of the potential danger of relying on herd immunity or attempting to achieve it via intentional infection. 

"The study rebukes the idea that current population-wide levels of acquired immunity (so-called herd immunity) will pose any substantial impediment to the continued propagation" of the virus, at least for now, they wrote. "These data should also quickly dispel myths that dangerous practices like 'COVID parties' are either a sound or safe way to promote herd immunity."

As for yourself: To stay healthy no matter where you live, get tested if you think you have COVID-19, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), wear a face mask, practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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