Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a debate regarding the official figures released to the public in each of the majorly affected countries. A number of health experts had previously stated that the actual number of the coronavirus cases are much higher than told by the official statistics.
A recent study, whose findings appear in the journal Science Translational Medicine, now further adds to the debate and concludes that nearly eighty percent of the 8.7 million coronavirus cases in the US were not diagnosed in March.
More precisely, the team of researchers found that people who went to the hospital upon displaying symptoms similar to the coronavirus infection including coughing, sneezing, and fever were not diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 or even any other seasonal virus.
According to reports on coronavirus cases, the first and biggest spike in the US occurred in the month of March.
In the new report, the team wrote “The findings support a scenario where more than 8.7 million new SARS-CoV-2 infections appeared in the U.S. during March and estimate that more than 80% of these cases remained unidentified as the outbreak rapidly spread,”
However, the official statistics on coronavirus infection from March show that 100,000 cases were detected. Even now, the total number of cases of coronavirus are said to be 2.3 million.
One of the reasons for the low number of infections detected during the month of March can be the unavailability of testing kits for the novel coronavirus. In comparison, many US states are conducting widespread testing for the infection now.
For examining the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 at the beginning of the pandemic, the team assessed data collected by the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention from each of the states.
The CDC compiles data on Influenza-like illnesses and other seasonal infections in order to keep a track of the annual flu endemic. Health professionals from all states are asked to report all cases of people with signs similar to that of influenza.
After examining the data, the team, led by Justin Silverman from the Penn State University, found that there was an increase in the influenza-like illness outpatients during the starting of the coronavirus pandemic.
The researchers also found that the number of Influenza-like illness patients was higher in comparison with the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in each of the states. This shows that many of the people with coronavirus may have not been diagnosed even if they displayed all of the symptoms.
Most of such patients also likely never received treatment for the infection nor underwent coronavirus testing.
Lack of testing and diagnosis may have been one of the reasons why the coronavirus infection was able to spread at a very fast rate across the US.
Statistically, the wave of coronavirus in March starting declining after 22nd March around the time most people had found out the pandemic has entered the country.
According to previous reports, the majority had stopped visiting doctors and hospitals after the confirmation of the pandemic, which shows that the decline may simply be due to people not visiting doctors out of the fear of coronavirus infection.
Consequently, the statistics may not have covered all coronavirus cases in the past three months due to shortcomings in the data compilation method. The team hopes their new approach of syndromic surveillance can help in overcoming the shortcomings and record the cases more accurately.