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BackgroundThe transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 varies depending on social distancing measures, circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, host factors and other environmental factors. We sought to investigate the clinical and epidemiological characteristics of a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak that occurred in a highly dense population area in Colombo, Sri Lanka from April to May 2020.Methodology/principal findingsWe carried out RT-qPCR for SARS-CoV2, assessed the SARS-CoV-2 specific total and neutralizing antibodies (Nabs) in a densely packed, underserved settlement (n = 2722) after identification of the index case on 15th April 2020. 89/2722 individuals were detected as infected by RT-qPCR with a secondary attack rate among close contacts being 0.077 (95% CI 0.063-0.095). Another 30 asymptomatic individuals were found to have had COVID-19 based on the presence of SARS-CoV-2 specific antibodies. However, only 61.5% of those who were initially seropositive for SARS-CoV-2 had detectable total antibodies at 120 to 160 days, while only 40.6% had detectable Nabs. 74/89 (83.1%) of RT-qPCR positive individuals were completely asymptomatic and all 15 (16.9%) who experienced symptoms were classified as having a mild illness. 18 (20.2%) were between the ages of 61 to 80. 11/89 (12.4%) had diabetes, 8/89 (9%) had cardiovascular disease and 4 (4.5%) had asthma. Of the two viruses that were sequenced and were of the B.1 and B.4 lineages with one carrying the D614G mutation.Discussion/conclusionAlmost all infected individuals developed mild or asymptomatic illness despite the presence of comorbid illnesses. Since the majority of those who were in this underserved settlement were not infected despite circulation of the D614G variant, it would be important to further study environmental and host factors that lead to disease severity and transmission.

Original publication




Journal article


PloS one

Publication Date





Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit, Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Nugegoda, Sri Lanka.


Humans, RNA, Viral, Antibodies, Viral, Population Surveillance, Prospective Studies, Disease Outbreaks, Geography, Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Middle Aged, Child, Child, Preschool, Infant, Sri Lanka, Female, Male, Young Adult, Antibodies, Neutralizing, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2