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Asymptomatic screening of high-risk individuals is essential to mitigating the impact of coronavirus according to a leading scientist. He said the aim should be to “nip the disease in the bud”. But what does the latest research into COVID-19 show about the rate of asymptomatic coronavirus infections and just what proportion of people who test positive are confirmed as asymptomatic?
What does asymptomatic mean?
Asymptomatic means there are no symptoms of the illness.
You are considered to be asymptomatic if you have:
Recovered from an illness or condition and no longer have symptoms
An illness or condition but do not have any symptoms of it.
Speaking at a Science Media Centre briefing today Professor Paul Lehner of the University of Cambridge said better asymptomatic screening is needed to help treat people with coronavirus earlier.
He spoke of how the asymptomatic screening process had been implemented by his own university to test students in batches.
Professor Lehner said: “That is allowing us to pick up the asymptomatics, allowing us to rapidly isolate people and hopefully protect the rest of the community and learn about how to deal with that sort of group.”
He added: “I think that’s the only way that we can realistically try and nip the disease in the bud before we get the end-stage disease that is so difficult to deal with.
“It’s going to become a logistical challenge of improved testing and then get that testing out to what are the high-risk populations.”
University College London (UCL) analysed data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) coronavirus infection survey of 36,061 people who had a test from the end of April to the end of June.
The research published this month found more than eight in 10 people who test positive for coronavirus show none of the main symptoms at the time they are tested.
In total, 86 percent did not have a cough, any loss of taste or smell or a high temperature according to scientists at UCL.
Around 77 percent of people showed no symptoms at all.
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The data showed 115 of the 36,061 people polled tested positive for the virus.
Of those, 27 were symptomatic which is 23.5 percent.
This means 88 were asymptomatic on the day of the test, which equates to 76.5 percent.
Research lead Professor Irene Petersen said people may have developed symptoms in the days before the test or laer, but figures suggested large numbers are spreading the virus while asymptomatic.
Professor Petersen said: “They may be silent transmitters and they don’t know about it. And so I think that’s a problem.
“You may have a lot of people who are out in society and they’re not self-isolating because they didn’t know that they are positive.”
She added: “I think you could seed a lot of new infections around Christmas – you’re indoors, you sit around the table.
“Hopefully they can get that (testing) up and running before Christmas, I don’t think they should wait until Christmas.”
One study published earlier this year found one in five people in London and the South East who tested positive for COVID-19 did not have any symptoms.
The study found 27 percent of people who fell ill did not display any of the main coronavirus symptoms: a persistent cough, high temperature and loss of taste or smell.
The study lead Dr Claire Steves said: “Our findings highlight the fact that a significant proportion of people who get infected with coronavirus don’t have any obvious symptoms but may still pass the disease on to others.
“It’s essential that we all take steps to protect the health of everyone by sticking to social distancing guidelines, wearing face coverings in public, and following good hand hygiene practices.
“Testing is much more available now. So, if you have symptoms you can’t explain – get a swab or saliva test, as that way you will know to protect yourself and the people around you.”
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