Episode 104: Reading Between The Lines of Sero-surveys

Hello and welcome to The Moving Curve. I’m Rukmini, a data journalist based in Chennai. Two nights a week on this mini-cast, I consider one question around the novel coronavirus epidemic in India. Tonight I’m considering this one — how do we read between the lines of sero-surveys?

Prof. Sandeep Juneja’s bio is here.

The Mumbai sero-survey’s first round is here.

Round II is here.

So just to sum up: the Mumbai sero-survey showed high prevalence in the first round, but real prevalence was probably even higher. The second round showed what appeared to be a decline in slums and an increase in non-slums, but because of what we know about antibody decay, a decline doesn’t really mean a decline. But from lab-confirmed cases, we do know that most of the recent surge was in non-slum areas. On the other hand, people in non-slum areas are more likely to get tested.

It’s a lot, and it’s clear that one sero-survey headline will not get us anywhere.

For me, this encapsulated two important learnings for me from the pandemic. One, that no single indicator is enough in this pandemic, and two, that the generosity and public spiritedness of scientists is something I’m enormously thankful for. Without the openness of the TIFR scientists in walking me through the nuts and bolts of their sero-surveys, I’d never have these insights. I thank Prof Juneja for joining me.

This episode was edited by Anand Krishnamoorthi. On the next episode — a new question.

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I am a data journalist based in Chennai, India.

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