A massive testing campaign conducted across the general population in the European nation of Iceland showed a significant number of people without outward symptoms tested positive for the novel coronavirus infection.
Health authorities in this small island nation started testing for COVID-19 with technological assistance of the medical research firm deCode Genetics on its 364,000-strong population a few weeks ago.
As of last week, the authorities tested 3,787 individuals in the country, of which a total of 218 positive cases have been identified.
The numbers include the first results of the 1,800 voluntary tests on people with no symptoms, which started a week back.
The first batch of tests produced 19 positive cases, or about 1% of the sample.
“Early results from deCode Genetics indicate that a low proportion of the general population has contracted the virus and that about half of those
who tested positive are non-symptomatic,” Thorolfur Guðnason, Iceland’s chief epidemiologist told BuzzFeed News. The other half displayed very moderate cold-like symptoms.
The findings lend further credence to the theory that asymptomatic individuals harbouring the virus are at the heart of large-scale community spread of the pandemic, which is currently going uncontrolled in several countries of the world defying all efforts to contain it.
Multiple research studies have already revealed that asymptomatic individuals contribute to the transmission of the disease in great numbers.
A significant portion of the individuals infected with coronavirus show no or mild symptoms.
Transmission after 14 days
A similar testing on the entire population of 3,300 people in Vo Euganeo in northern Italy also showed that the majority of the 3 percent of all those tested positive did not have any symptoms.
Italian authorities also found that a significant proportion of isolated people who had been tested positive for coronavirus infection continue to remain positive in tests carried out after 14 days of quarantine.
This underscores another potential risk of the COVID-19 — the virus can take more time to get cleared from the system than the currently specified quarantine period of 14 days.
Some research models assume that symptomatic individuals are more infectious than asymptomatic ones.
Analyses of data collected from China during the outbreak suggest that 40-50% of infections — including asymptomatic infections, mild disease and a level of under-ascertainment — were not identified as cases.
While Iceland and Vo could manage to screen the entire population, such a measure is unimaginable for countries like India with their humongous populations.
It makes the fight against the virus even more daunting.
India’s current testing protocol allows no testing on asymptomatic individuals and tests are conducted only on high-risk cases, like those with overseas travel history and those who come in close contact with them. The WHO also urges nations to test only suspected cases.
Indian labs have the capacity to test 10,000 samples per day.
The country has a total of 7,13,986 government hospital beds, which amounts to 0.55 beds per 1,000 population.
Community spread of the coronavirus infection can complicate the problem in a country with a 1.3 billion population. Besides isolated hospital beds for the seriously ill, an estimated 5-10 percent of total patients will require critical care in the form of ventilator support.