Infectious Disease

Most SARS-CoV-2 transmissions come from asymptomatic folks, the CDC evaluation finds

January 15, 2021

2 min read

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A new analytical model suggests that more than half of all SARS-CoV-2 transmissions come from asymptomatic people, CDC researchers reported.

Finding published in JAMA Network Open shows that isolating symptomatic patients with COVID-19 is not enough to stop the virus from spreading, the researchers said.

Jay Butler quote

“These results underscore the importance of mitigation measures such as the wearing of masks, social distancing and hand washing by everyone to slow the spread of COVID-19, including those with no symptoms,” said the CDC’s Deputy Director on Infectious Diseases Jay Butler, MD, said Healio. “They also suggest that strategic testing of people with no symptoms, such as people who have been exposed to COVID-19 or who have frequent public contact, can reduce the spread until safe and effective vaccines are widely available and used will.”

Butler and colleagues used a decision analytical model to assess relative SARS-CoV-2 transmission from presymptomatic, never symptomatic, and symptomatic patients in a range of scenarios where the percentage of transmission from asymptomatic individuals as well as the infectious disease period were different in published Estimates.

“For all estimates, data from a meta-analysis was used to set the incubation period at a median of 5 days. The duration of the infection period was kept at 10 days and the maximum infectivity was varied between 3 and 7 days (2 and +2 days based on the mean incubation time), ”explained the researchers. “The total proportion of SARS-CoV-2 was varied between 0% and 70% in order to assess a wide range of possible proportions.”

The researchers found that 59% of all transmissions came from asymptomatic people – 35% from presymptomatic people and 24% from people who never developed symptoms.

Butler was surprised to find that finding that half of the transmissions were from people without symptoms, “held below such a wide range of values,” and that transmission from people without symptoms “played a significant role in spread and continuation the COVID-19 pandemic is playing. ”

“The results are based on a mathematical model, and the quality of the model is only as good as the data that [go] inside. One of the strengths of the analysis is that we were able to vary the parameters based on the results of a number of studies. However, as our knowledge of COVID-19 increases, we may need to update the analysis, ”he said. “In addition, the epidemiology of COVID-19 could change if SARS-CoV-2 variants emerge with different clinical and epidemiological behavior.”

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