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Coronavirus: 45% of asymptomatic patients may have lung damage

As many as half of coronavirus patients with NO symptoms may silently suffer ‘disturbing’ lung damage that leaves them oxygen-deprived without knowing it, study finds

  • Researchers looked at studies from 16 different groups including prison inmates, cruise ship passengers and nursing home residents
  • About 45% of people infected with COVID-19 may never have traditional signs such as coughing, fever or shortness of breath
  • Among the cruise ship passengers, 54% of the 76 those who were asymptomatic had lung damage indicated on CT scans
  • Specifically that lad hazy, white clouds in their lungs, meaning the organs were full of fluid, bacteria or immune system cells
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Coronavirus patients without any symptoms can still suffer organ damage – often silently – a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzing public datasets found that as many as 45 percent of people infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, never have traditional signs such as coughing, fever or shortness of breath.

What’s more, in one of the datasets, more than half of asymptomatic patients had CT scans with signs of serious lung damage.  

The team, from Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, says the findings provide evidence that those without symptoms played a significant role in spreading the virus and show why large-scale testing and contact tracing is so important. 

About 45% of people infected with COVID-19 may never have traditional signs such as coughing, fever or shortness of breath. Pictured: Dr Vincent Carrao draws blood from a patient for a coronavirus test at Palisades Oral Surgery, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, June 15

About 45% of people infected with COVID-19 may never have traditional signs such as coughing, fever or shortness of breath. Pictured: Dr Vincent Carrao draws blood from a patient for a coronavirus test at Palisades Oral Surgery, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, June 15

Among Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers, 54% of the 76 those who were asymptomatic had lung damage. Pictured: Nurse Catherine Gaughan draws blood from Ahmad Bazzi for antibody testing at ACCESS in Dearborn, Michigan, June 12

Among Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers, 54% of the 76 those who were asymptomatic had lung damage. Pictured: Nurse Catherine Gaughan draws blood from Ahmad Bazzi for antibody testing at ACCESS in Dearborn, Michigan, June 12

‘The silent spread of the virus makes it all the more challenging to control,’ said Dr Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research.   

‘Our review really highlights the importance of testing. It’s clear that with such a high asymptomatic rate, we need to cast a very wide net, otherwise the virus will continue to evade us.’ 

For the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the team looked at reports from 16 cohorts around the world. 

This included pre-print reviews from bioRxiv and meRxiv, and studies looking at groups such as nursing home residents, cruise ship passengers and prison inmates.

‘What virtually all of them had in common was that a very large proportion of infected individuals had no symptoms,’ Oran said. 

‘Among more than 3,000 prison inmates in four states who tested positive for the coronavirus, the figure was astronomical: 96 percent asymptomatic.’  

Next, the researchers looked at CT scans of passengers who were onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Of 76 people without symptoms such as coughing or fever, 54 percent showed significant lung abnormalities, specifically lung opacities.

Lung opacities are hazy clouds of white that contrast against the darkness of the lungs, which usually indicates the lungs are full of things such as fluid, bacteria, or immune system cells.

The team says this mean it’s possible coronavirus may impact lung function, but it also may not be immediately apparent to the patients.

The authors say the findings highlight the importance of social distancing and wearing face masks.

‘Our estimate of 40 to 45 percent asymptomatic means that, if you’re unlucky enough to get infected, the probability is almost a flip of a coin on whether you’re going to have symptoms,’ Oran said.

‘So to protect others, we think that wearing a mask makes a lot of sense,’ Oran concludes.’

In the US, there are more than 2.1 million confirmed cases of the virus and more than 116,000 deaths.  

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