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The city that was the initial focus of the pandemic in Italy and now intrigues researchers by its “superimmune” inhabitants to covid-19

The researchers observed in Vo ‘Euganeo that the antibodies increased in some people who had already had COVID-19 and had contact with positive people months later. Scientists believe that the same dynamic can occur with vaccinated people

Researchers carry out antibody tests in Vo ‘Euganeo (EFE / EPA / NICOLA FOSSELLA)

Scientists are investigating the presence of people “superimmune” to covid-19 in the small northern town of Italy where the first coronavirus death occurred in Europe.

Vo ‘Euganeo, a small rural town of 3,275 near Padua, Veneto, became a large-scale laboratory when it became the first pandemic outbreak in Italy in February 2020.

Covid-19 was starting to spread across the country and, as the world watched, Vo ‘was the first city to be placed in strict quarantine, guarded by the army. Too, It was the only one where doctors were able to test all 2,812 inhabitants.

The soldiers left a long time ago, but the doctors stayed and continued the tests.

Now, scientists have found that antibodies produced by locals after capturing COVID-19 they were still very strong nine months later, more than some experts predicted.

“We also found that, in some cases, antibody levels increased, rather than disappeared, during that time.”, he explained to the British newspaper The times Enrico Lavezzo, a microbiologist at the University of Padua, who is conducting the tests.

Lavezzo and his colleagues concluded when analyzing 2,602 inhabitants for antibodies in May and they established that 162 were immune after being infected in February or early March.

Archive image of members of the Italian Army wearing masks while checking a driver's permission to enter the red zone of Turano Lodigiano, near Vo ', closed due to the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy, in Turano Lodigiano, Italy.  February 26, 2020. REUTERS / Yara Nardi / Archive

Archive image of members of the Italian Army wearing masks while checking a driver’s permission to enter the red zone of Turano Lodigiano, near Vo ‘, closed due to the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy, in Turano Lodigiano, Italy. February 26, 2020. REUTERS / Yara Nardi / Archive

Of these 162 residents, 156 were tested again nine months later, in November. Of this, 129 of them still had antibodies.

According to the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Padua in collaboration with Imperial College London, of the 129 people who still had antibodies nine months after the initial outbreak., 16 showed more than double the levels of May. Possible causes of the increase in antibodies include re-exposure to the virus. The study is being peer-reviewed.

“More than half of the 129 showed a decrease in antibodies nine months later, but they were still sufficient to protect themselves from the virus”, Said Lavezzo.

The team found that former patients who had symptoms during their fight against greed they maintained their antibody level better over time if they had a higher body mass index. In some tests, the older the subjects, the longer their antibodies remained.

However, the most prominent finding was the 16 individuals whose antibodies in November were more than double the level they had in May.

“We think it’s because they had contact with someone who was positive after May”Said Lavezzo. “The virus entered their bodies, infected some cells, but was quickly eliminated by the antibodies they already had. But something else happened: the virus stimulated the production of even more antibodies. None showed symptoms. “

Nine of these sixteen people confirmed that they had possible contacts with a positive between May and November.

“A colleague from the office had it in October and ended up in the hospital,” he said. “I knew he already had antibodies thanks to Covid in February, so it’s possible that he was careless about it,” he said. Raffaela Frasson, 53 years old and one of the superimmune cases.

An ambulance in Codogno, the other initial coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy (Claudio Furlan / LaPresse via ZUMA / DPA)

An ambulance in Codogno, the other initial coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy (Claudio Furlan / LaPresse via ZUMA / DPA)

“Many viruses stimulate the production of additional antibodies when there is contact,” explained Lavezzo. “What we saw here with Covid is that a contact can more than double the antibodies you already have and it really extends the time that you are protected. “

“What we don’t know is whether during this brief and small contagion, you become contagious”, said the researcher.

But there is more. Lavezzo believes that the increase in antibodies caused by a new contact works not only for those who have had COVID-19, but also for those who have been vaccinated, which means that the protection offered by a vaccine can be strengthened if the recipient comes in contact with a positive case.

“A vaccine is an artificial exposure to a pathogen”Lavezzo said to NBC News. “It is like promoting the immunological memory of those who are vaccinated, so that the next time they come into contact with the virus, their response can be faster and stronger.”

Although so-called superimmunes have been found in other parts of the world, it is rare for people’s antibodies to increase rather than dissipate.

Understanding how to trigger such a response can be critical to defeating COVID-19.

The superimmune discovery is not the first Vo ‘study to offer information about the coronavirus.

In March 2020, when most of the world still saw Covid-19 as a disease that affected remote populations, Lavezzo and other researchers found that 42.5% of those infected in Vo ‘were asymptomatic.. The discovery influenced the decision in the Veneto region, where Vo ‘is located, to increase efforts to test, track and isolate the virus. Vo ‘Euganeo’s approach was a case of international praise.

Among the data that Lavezzo’s team is collecting is also the population’s genetic map to see if something in their DNA has helped them defend against the virus.

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