BERN, Switzerland — This year has been a crash course in medical terminology for plenty of us. The term “asymptomatic carrier” probably wasn’t a phrase you threw around back in 2019, but nowadays it seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. As this pandemic wears on, it’s now clear that a portion of people who contract coronavirus don’t experience symptoms. However, exactly how many asymptomatic carriers are out there remains up for debate.
Now, a new study concludes there aren’t as many asymptomatic COVID carriers as many think. Researchers from the University of Bern say the vast majority of people who become infected with coronavirus will at least experience one symptom. Many considered asymptomatic are in reality pre-symptomatic, the study suggests.
Of course, these symptoms vary greatly. The most obvious symptoms associated with COVID-19 involve the lungs and respiratory system. However, many have reported stomach, taste, and smell problems, just to name a few more. Moreover, the severity of a given symptom varies from person to person. Many require hospitalization but others’ symptoms are milder.
Do asymptomatic coronavirus carriers ever develop symptoms?
For the study, researchers attempted to estimate how many people never develop COVID symptoms, or develop symptoms after initially being classified as asymptomatic. The authors analyzed a database of coronavirus research conducted between March and June of this year. That investigation includes 79 studies covering 6,616 people (1,287 of whom were classified as asymptomatic).
Results show that 20% of patients originally classified as asymptomatic remained symptom-free by a follow-up medical examination. The authors admit they were unable to account for possible false negative coronavirus test results.
Of course, it’s going to be difficult to properly contain SARS-CoV-2 and eventually end this pandemic without a better understanding of both asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infections. To that end, researchers stress the importance of more prospective longterm studies focused on symptom status and arrival.
Stringent prevention measures can help stop the ‘silent’ spread
All in all, they conclude that roughly 80% of people who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 will eventually develop some form of symptoms. If indeed true, that would mean pre-symptomatic carriers are most definitely a driving force behind the pandemic.
“The findings of this systematic review of publications early in the pandemic suggests that most SARS-CoV-2 infections are not asymptomatic throughout the course of infection. The contribution of pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic infections to overall SARS-CoV-2 transmission means that combination prevention measures, with enhanced hand and respiratory hygiene, testing and tracing, and isolation strategies and social distancing, will continue to be needed,” the study’s authors conclude.
The study is published in PLOS Medicine.