People testing negative for coronavirus antibodies may still have some immunity, a study has suggested.
For every person testing positive for antibodies, two were found to have specific T-cells which identify and destroy infected cells.
This was seen even in people who had mild or symptomless cases of Covid-19.
But it’s not yet clear whether this just protects that individual, or if it might also stop them from passing on the infection to others.
Researchers at the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden tested 200 people for both antibodies and T-cells.
Some were blood donors while others were tracked down from the group of people first infected in Sweden, mainly returning from earlier affected areas like northern Italy.
This could mean a wider group have some level of immunity to Covid-19 than antibody testing figures, like those published as part of the UK Office for National Statistics Infection Survey, suggest.
And these people should be protected if they are exposed to the virus for a second time.
Prof Danny Altmann at Imperial College London described the study as “robust, impressive and thorough” and said it added to a growing body of evidence that “antibody testing alone underestimates immunity”.
This doesn’t necessarily get us any closer to herd immunity, though, according to assistant professor Marcus Buggert, one of the study’s authors.
More analysis needs to be done to understand whether these T-cells provide “sterilizing immunity”, meaning they completely block the virus, or whether they might protect an individual from getting sick but not stop them from carrying the virus and transmitting it.
Much of the discussion around Covid-19 immunity has focused on antibodies – Y-shaped proteins which act like “missiles shooting down a target”, assistant Prof Buggert explained.
They bind to the virus before it can enter your cells, and neutralize it.
If antibodies fail to neutralize the virus, it can enter your cells and turn them into virus-making factories.
T-cells, on the other hand, target already-infected cells and completely destroy them, stopping them from spreading to other, healthy cells.另一方面，T细胞靶向已感染的细胞并完全破坏它们，阻止它们扩散到其他健康细胞。