COVID-19 Infections: Pennsylvania State University Says Initial Coronavirus Infection Rates in America May Be 80 Times More Than First Reported
: Numerous researchers and epidemiologists believe that the initial SARS-Cov-2 infection rate was undercounted due to many testing issues, asymptomatic and alternatively symptomatic individuals, and a failure to identify early cases.
A latest research from Pennsylvania State University estimates that the number of early COVID-19 cases in the United States may have been more than 80 times greater and doubled nearly twice as fast as originally believed.
Their research findings were published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine
The researchers estimated the detection rate of symptomatic COVID-19 cases using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza-like illnesses (ILI) surveillance data over a three week period in March 2020.
Dr Justin Silverman, Assistant Professor in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology and Department of Medicine told Thailand Medical News, “We analyzed each state’s ILI cases to estimate the number that could not be attributed to influenza and were in excess of seasonal baseline levels. When you subtract these out, you’re left with what we’re calling excess ILI cases that can’t be explained by either influenza or the typical seasonal variation of respiratory pathogens.”
The study team found that the excess ILI showed a nearly perfect correlation with the spread of COVID-19 around the country.
Dr Silverman added, “This suggests that ILI data is capturing COVID cases, and there appears to be a much greater undiagnosed population than originally thought.”
Interestingly, the size of the observed surge of excess ILI corresponds to more than 8.7 million new cases during the last three weeks of March, compared to the roughly 100,000 cases that were officially reported during the same time period.
Dr Silverman further added, “Initially, we could not believe our estimates were correct. But we realized that deaths across the U.S. had been doubling every three days and that our estimate of the infection rate was consistent with three-day doubling since the first observed case was reported in Washington state on Jan. 15.”
The team also used this process to estimate infection rates for each state, noting that states showing higher per capita rates of infection also had higher per capita rates of a surge in excess ILI. Their estimates showed rates much higher than initially reported but closer to those found once states began completing antibody testing.
For example, in New York, the researchers’ model suggested that at least 9% of the state’s entire population was infected by the end of March. After the state conducted antibody testing on 3,000 residents, they found a 13.9% infection rate, or 2.7 million New Yorkers.
Significantly, excess ILI appears to have peaked in mid-March as, the researchers suggest, fewer patients with mild symptoms sought care and states implemented interventions which le
d to lower transmission rates. Nearly half of the states in the country were under stay-at-home orders by March 28.
The research findings suggest an alternative way of thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Silverman explained however, “Our results suggest that the overwhelming effects of COVID-19 may have less to do with the virus’ lethality and more to do with how quickly it was able to spread through communities initially. A lower fatality rate coupled with a higher prevalence of disease and rapid growth of regional epidemics provides an alternative explanation to the large number of deaths and overcrowding of hospitals we have seen in certain areas of the world.”
It should be noted however at the current moment, America is seeing a new spike in COVID-19 infections especially in states in the South and West.
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