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Asymptomatic virus carriers

Date: 10 April 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous


Researchers have gathered evidence that in China, the epidemic was driven by a lot of not-very-sick people. They estimate that about 86% of infections early in that outbreak were transmitted by people who never got sick enough to go to the doctor.



To have any idea whether current social distancing efforts are helping slow the spread of coronavirus, and to gauge how long we should go on this way, scientists need to know how many people have mild or asymptomatic cases of Covid-19. 



  • Since the symptoms are vague and possibly non-existent, the case numbers that climb by the day aren’t what they seem. The true numbers may be much higher or only a little higher.

  • Understanding the mild cases can help researches get a handle on the spread of the disease, how it’s spreading and how widespread it’s already become.

  • The research was popularized as a warning against “silent spreaders”,  people who have no idea they are infected. Another study showed that in China, people within one family had symptoms that ranged from undetectable to severe. Random testing done in Iceland showed that 50% of people who tested positive had no symptoms.

  • But more important than determining who has gotten the disease is determining who is giving it to others. The study suggested that about 86% of documented infections were picked up from people with undocumented ones.

  • Symptoms are self-reported and subjective. The symptoms of mild coronavirus are pretty vague except for the fever, which people might not measure if they feel normal.

  • New evidence suggests that those with very mild cases might experience a loss of the sense of smell. The prevalence of this symptom is not yet known – people who can still smell should not assume they are uninfected, but those who suddenly lose that sense should consider themselves sick.

  • The range of severity is making this pandemic hard to fight — if it were severe in most people, as SARS was, it would be easier to stop the spread. If it were mild in most people, we’d treat it like the flu. But instead it’s extremely severe and deadly in some people and extremely mild,  and possibly even silent  in others.

  • It’s been established that after people become infected, they can walk around for an average of five days and up to around two weeks before they start to feel sick, and it’s not yet clear how many of those days their bodies shed enough of the virus to infect others.

  • The conclusion was that people without documented symptoms were about half as contagious as those with them, and yet they constituted the majority of people who got and spread the disease during that period.

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