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National research shows half of COVID-19 cases may be spread by people without symptoms, Lexington numbers at only 30 percent

Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 10:02 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - New national research shows that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic COVID-19 cases are a primary driver of the virus spreading.

"The best thing to do is just assume everybody's got COVID-19," ER Physician Dr. Ryan Stanton said.

It's a disease that affects people in so many different ways, from no symptoms at all to the need for a ventilator, and we are still finding out new things about the virus.

"Even in medicine, what we've learned is that our ability to screen for this at the front door is very limited and very challenging," Stanton said.

That could be a contributing factor in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that suggests half of COVID-19 cases may be caused by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases.

Based on preliminary data from the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, that number is at about 30 percent here in Lexington.

But, the study states it would still take more than one-third of those infections to be identified and isolated to suppress a future outbreak.

According to the World Health Organization, people who have COVID-19 and remain asymptomatic seem to be the least likely to pass on the virus. It's those who are pre-symptomatic, meaning they are in the early stages of the virus before they develop symptoms, who have the highest chance of spreading the illness.

"The problem is you don't know until everything is said and done whether you are asymptomatic or just pre-symptomatic," Stanton said. "We don't know exactly who is going to develop symptoms, or who is very early, or who actually has very mild symptoms that they're brushing off as allergies."

That's one of the big reasons health experts are pushing the need to wear face masks and get tested whether you feel sick or not.

“The problem is it kind of limps along for so long before development that you can spread it to a bunch of people before you realize what’s going on,” Stanton said.

Copyright 2020 WKYT. All rights reserved.

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