SEATTLE, WA — A coronavirus outbreak aboard a Seattle-based fishing boat is providing researchers with some direct evidence of the effectiveness of antibodies in protecting patients from reinfection.
The University of Washington School of Medicine and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center teamed up to analyze an outbreak aboard a fishing vessel that sailed from Seattle in May.
Researchers identified the vessel to The Seattle Times as the FV American Dynasty, a factory trawler owned by American Seafoods.
Before the vessel set forth, its entire crew of 122 men and women were tested for active infections and had blood drawn to detect antibodies from earlier coronavirus illnesses. According to the study, none tested positive for the virus at the time, but three crew members had "significant levels" of antibodies indicating previous infection.
While at sea, the ship suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, forcing the vessel to return to port. Tests later revealed that 104 of the 122 crew members were infected during the outbreak. However, the three crew members who already had antibodies showed no signs of reinfection nor exhibited any symptoms.
In a news release, UW Medicine said the findings suggest vaccines designed to create neutralizing antibodies could be effective in people. Previously, the only direct clinical proof of antibodies' effectiveness against the virus came from studies in animals.
"Our results provide the first direct evidence that anti-SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies are protective against SARS-CoV-2 infection in humans," researchers wrote.
Several potential vaccines are currently in clinical trials in Washington and across the nation. Researchers said their latest findings are another piece in the puzzle of developing the most effective defense.
"We're honing in on the immunological responses we need to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection," said Dr. Alex Greninger, a UW School of Medicine professor who led the project. "We can't wait to get this virus behind us."
The research paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, can be read on the MedRxiv website.