Nearly 9 Million Americans With Coronavirus Went Undiagnosed in March, Study Suggests

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New Penn State University research suggests that the number of US COVID-19 cases in March may have been 80 times higher than originally thought.
The results, published in Science Translational Medicine, have shown that there were more than 8.7 million coronavirus cases that health officials and the public never knew existed.
Many epidemiologists believe that the initial COVID-19 infection rate was counted down due to test problems, asymptomatic spreaders, and high false-negative rates.
"Our results suggest that the overwhelming impact of COVID-19 is less about the lethality of the virus than how quickly it initially spread to the community," said study co-author Justin Silverman , an assistant professor at Penn State College for Information Science and Technology and Department of Medicine, said in a press release.
"A lower death rate combined with a higher prevalence of diseases and rapid growth of regional epidemics provides an alternative explanation for the large number of deaths and hospital overcrowding that we have seen in certain regions of the world."
The study was able to estimate the detection rate of symptomatic COVID-19 cases using surveillance data from the Centers for Control and Prevention of Influenza-like Diseases (ILI) over a period of three weeks in March.
"We analyzed each country's ILI cases to estimate the non-influenza number that exceeded seasonal baseline," said Silverman.
"If you subtract this, you have what we call excessive ILI - cases that cannot be explained by influenza or the typical seasonal variation in respiratory pathogens."
The researchers soon found that the ILI surplus was almost perfectly in line with the spread of COVID-19 across the country.
"This suggests that ILI data capture COVID cases and there appears to be a much larger undiagnosed population than originally thought," said Silverman.
In the last three weeks of March, only about 100,000 cases have been officially reported in the United States.
"At first, I couldn't believe our estimates were correct," said Silverman. "However, we found that deaths in the United States had doubled every three days and that our infection rate estimate had doubled since the first observed case was reported in Washington State on January 15th."
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based science and technology editor who has contributed to Google, The Korea Herald, the Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow him or contact him on LinkedIn.
Image: Reuters.
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