LONDON, ONT. -- The number of COVID-19 cases across the country could be higher than we know, according to a group of scientists at Western University.

"We are underestimating the number of people in the population who have been exposed to the virus," says Dr. Dave Edgell in the Department of Biochemistry at Western's Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

"There are some estimates that there may be 10 to 20 times more people infected that are actually being reported as confirmed cases of COVID." 

Edgell says that’s why his team, in collaboration with Suncor, are working at rapidly developing COVID-19 test kits that would determine if someone has been previously infected and has antibodies for the virus. 

"The test will tell you if you have antibodies that your immune system has created to combat the virus."

Dr. Greg Gloor, also from Schulich's Department of Biochemistry says these kits could help researchers investigate herd immunity. 

"In order to contain this outbreak we need to know who is currently infected and who has been infected. People who have been infected and have developed a high enough immunity probably have less to fear than people who have not been infected."

The research team is developing these kits by using algae. A new concept that they say would allow tests to be made more cost-effective with the goals of it reaching more people.

"This is where algae comes in, because it can be grown in sea water and sunlight and it doesn’t cost anything really compared to the way people make the viral antigens now," says Edgell. 

The hopes are to roll out these tests kits by late fall, once production and testing of efficacy is complete.