Nearly Half Of COVID-19 Infections Could Be Asymptomatic, New Study Suggests

by | Jun 19, 2020 | Health

As more job sectors in South Africa begin to open, the risk of infection also becomes greater — a new study reminds us that we shouldn’t feel safe and let our guards down when we’re in close proximity to someone that doesn’t ‘look or sound’ like they have COVID-19.

South Africa currently has 80 412 identified cases of COVID-19, and 34 407 of those cases are currently active. The recovery rate is at 55,13% with 44 331recoveries; just over 1,2 million tests have been conducted and 1 674 people have died (as of 18 June 2020).

The review study, carried out by researchers from the Scripps Research Institute, is suggesting that close to half (45%) of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.

“Our review really highlights the importance of testing because it’s clear that with such a high asymptomatic rate, we need to cast a very wide net, otherwise the virus will continue to evade us,” Dr. Eric Topol, a co-author of the review, said in a statement.

How the study was conducted

Topol and his research associate Dr Daniel Oran reviewed testing studies from around the world which included data on cruise ship passengers, prison inmates, and nursing home residents amongst other groups of people.

“What, virtually all of them, had in common was that a very large proportion of infected individuals had no symptoms,” Dr. Oran, co-author of the review, said in a statement.

Shockingly, among 3000 prison inmates spread out across four different states that tested positive for the virus, they found that 96% of them were asymptomatic.

READ MORE: The Biggest ‘Breakthrough’ In COVID-19 Treatment So Far, According To Scientists

“Our estimate of 40 – 45% asymptomatic means that, if you’re unlucky enough to get infected, the probability is almost a flip of a coin on whether you’re going to have symptoms. So to protect others, we think that wearing a mask makes a lot of sense,” Dr. Oran said.

This is because asymptomatic individuals are still able to transmit the virus for up to 14 days or even longer. Also, the review goes on to say that just because you don’t have symptoms, doesn’t mean that the virus is not doing any harm, but more research into this is needed to confirm whether there is harm done and to what extent.

Symptoms may not be what you think

Another study that was published around the same time looked to highlight the neurological effects of COVID-19 which are not as widely spoken about as the regular flu-like symptoms we know and recognise today.

Published in the journal Annals of Neurology, the review study found that close to half of hospitalised COVID-19 patients experienced neurological manifestations of the virus. These included the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Decreased alertness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disorders of smell and taste
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Weakness and muscle pain

“SARS-COV-2 infection may present with neurological symptoms initially, before any fever, cough or respiratory problems occur,” Dr. Igor Koralnik, lead author of the review, said in a statement.

South Africa opens up more of the economy

South Africa has just gone over 100 days since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the country, and as we enter an ‘advanced’ alert level 3 stage, the president announced that the economy would be opening up a bit more.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the following (amongst other things):

  • Restaurants can reopen for sit-down meals
  • Personal care services like hairdressers can reopen
  • Some non-contact sport can resume
  • Accredited accommodation facilities (except for Airbnb)
  • Cinemas and theatres can reopen
  • Casinos can reopen
  • Gyms and fitness centres will remain closed

They will have to follow strict protection and prevention guidelines. The announcements around the protocols and when exactly these sectors will be allowed to open will be made clearer in due course.

Following the president’s speech, minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize came out to say that South Africans should prepare themselves for an exponential rise in cases as more sectors open up. This was in an interview with PowerFM where he went on to acknowledge and welcome the groundbreaking trial on the use of steroid dexamethasone to save the lives of people experiencing a severe form of the virus.

“Every hospital has dexamethasone; it is a drug that has been available for a long time and has typically been used to treat people with auto-immune problems,” Dr Mkhize said.

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