The risk of asymptomatic patients

The relentless spread of the coronavirus remains a global concern. Measures to combat the coronavirus are becoming more stringent. The authorities in New York, for example, sent a forceful message to its inhabitants. "Everyone should behave as if they have already been exposed to the coronavirus." This is vital, especially if the risk of asymptomatic patients is taken into account.

That warning is backed by new scientific evidence. It arises from analyzing how the virus spread in China, the country where the pandemic arose. Until this Wednesday it registered more than 3,200 deaths.

The actual number of infected is believed to be much higher than the official number.
The actual number of infected is believed to be much higher than the official number.
Two thirds

This new research shows important data. Two out of three infections of the new coronavirus have been caused by people who had not been diagnosed with the virus. Or that at least they had no symptoms.

“The explosion of covid-19 cases in China was largely driven by people with mild, limited, or symptom-free symptoms. They were not detected, "said Jeffrey Shaman in a statement. He is a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University and a co-author of the research.

"Undetected cases can expose a much larger portion of the population to the virus," says Shaman.

What does that mean? That infected people who feel healthy or have very mild symptoms are spreading the virus without realizing it. It is the risk of asymptomatic patients.

Shaman's findings mean that the actual number of people infected around the world is much higher than official figures show. Many people are not aware that they have the virus and transmit it without knowing it.

The risk of asymptomatic patients increases the growth curve of the coronavirus.
The risk of asymptomatic patients increases the growth curve of the coronavirus.
Stealth Transmissions

Shaman calls this phenomenon "stealth transmissions." It maintains that they represent a great challenge to contain this outbreak.

Research shows that in the early stages of the epidemic in China, for every confirmed case there were at least six people infected but undiagnosed.

"If we have 3,500 confirmed cases in the United States, there may actually be 35,000," Shaman said. He quotes it The New York Times on March 16.

Globally it would be much worse. If as of March 18 there were more than 200,000 confirmed cases in more than 150 countries, in reality more than 1 million people could be infected. Shaman said it in a press conference quoted by The Washington Post.

Government efforts and citizens' awareness reduced the contagion rate in China. After travel restrictions and other control measures were imposed, the virus began to spread more slowly.

"Increased awareness of the outbreak, increased use of personal protection measures and travel restriction have helped reduce the strength of the infection," says Shaman.

The study warns that a specific measure is needed to control the spread. "The radical increase in the identification and isolation of those infected that have not yet been documented."

Meanwhile, experts in epidemiology recommend "social distancing." Even among people who have no symptoms, as an effective practice to prevent the spread of the virus.

Social distancing includes very defined behaviors. Work from home, go out alone to necessary places like supermarkets, avoid crowds, and avoid public transportation during rush hours.

The World Health Organization, for its part, recommends these practices:

  • Wash your hands with soap frequently.
  • Keep a distance of at least a meter from someone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover yourself with your elbow or a handkerchief when you cough or sneeze.
  • Seek medical help if you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath.

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