October 9, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 43—Antibody testing, and suicide risk

More than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, protective behaviors such as wearing a mask and social distancing are ingrained in most Americans’ routine. But what about those who have been infected? Indiana University researchers are studying whether receiving the results of an antibody test changes the protective behaviors college students adopt to limit the spread of COVID-19. Led by Molly Rosenberg and Christina Ludema, the study includes administering rapid antibody tests to over 1,000 IU undergraduate students. All participants in the research study will receive the results of their antibody tests, but some students will receive their results within one day while others will be given their results after four weeks. Researchers will then assess participants' frequency of protective behaviors, such as mask-wearing, physical distancing, limiting close contacts/avoiding crowds, hand-washing and avoiding contact with high-risk individuals. The goal is to better understand how antibody test results affect student behaviors and what further prevention efforts can be implemented to keep students and the community safe. Ludema says while studies have been published on the relationship between risk perception and other demographic characteristics and health behaviors that are protective for COVID-19 infection, there have not been any studies showing the effect of receiving information about antibody positivity on protective behavior. In addition to looking at protective behavior, the researchers also will assess the relationship between drinking behavior, social behavior and vaping with incidence of new infections of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, over the course of the semester.

In other news, a new study by researchers at IU found similarities among individuals living in the same communities can dramatically change their risk of dying by suicide. Suicide in America has been on the rise, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pressing the need for new approaches to reduce risk. But while suicide risks have been previously documented in individuals, the finding that those risks change depending on social geography has previously been difficult to establish in the U.S., says IU researcher Bernice Pescosolido. To address that, Pescosolido and her team examined the relationship between suicide and social "sameness" -- living in communities with other individuals who share common social characteristics, such as employment and marital status, ethnicity or place of birth. They found that social similarity reduced well-known individual risks of suicide for those younger than 45, unemployed, widowed, white, Black or not born in the United States. However, sameness was not always protective. Social similarity increased suicide risk for individuals who were born in the United States, had never married, or were Alaska Native, Native American, Hispanic or Asian, according to the study. Pescosolido says the findings challenge a 'one size fits all' approach to trying to reduce suicide -- even for targeted groups like teens, where the increase has been great. Knowing how social context alters individual suicide risk provides a path toward personalized and tailored strategies for anti-suicide programs, policies and treatment, she says.