COVID-19 study shows 75 percent of infectious people were asymptomatic

Updated: Jul. 2, 2020 at 4:48 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -“This was a way to see how many people have actually been infected in the community versus what we’re capturing with the extremely symptomatic people who are getting most of the tests,” said Amy Feehan, Ph.D.

In an Ochsner Hospital Prevalence Study of COVID 19, researchers selected a sample of 2,640 people from a group of 25,000 volunteers. They gave them both an antibody test and a COVID-19 test from May 11 through May 16. During that time period, the results showed there were hot spots in both Jefferson and Orleans.

“There were some hot spots for New Orleans East as well as the Westbank, but this is for anybody who tested positive for the virus and the antibody and had the disease sometime in the past,” Feehan said.

Researchers say the most alarming finding is that 75 percent of infectious people were asymptomatic and 40 percent of people never experience symptoms.

“The reality is unless you’re testing yourself every day and throughout the day, you should just assume that you may be transmitting this virus to someone else,” Feehan said.

“What I worry about is, will this be a leading indicator if those people are going home to their parents, grandparents and other people that may be in a higher risk category. Does that play out over the next 2 to 6 weeks?” said Dr. Robert Hart, M.D.

The data also showed that someone who reported the loss of smell or taste was 17 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19.

“I think part of the increased odds of someone testing positive when they’re reporting anosmia is important. Things like cough and fever happens for a lot of reasons, but anosmia seems to be particular to this virus. People aren’t losing their sense of smell or taste for other reasons,” Feehan said.

Feehan says if you experience that symptom, it’s a very good chance you’ll test positive for the disease. Whether patients had symptoms or not, though, researchers found the same amount of virus present in their body.

“The amount of virus is the same whether you have symptoms or not, so really if you’re in that infectious phase and you don’t have symptoms and you’re breathing out the same amount of virus as somebody who does have symptom, you’re just as infectious as that person,” says Feehan.

Researchers say the concern now is seeing the virus more prevalent in young people and the spread that can easily happen.

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