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Asymptomatic Patients Carry Same Amount of Virus as Symptomatic Individuals, Study Claims

Research in South Korea has found that even those who do not show signs and symptoms of COVID-19 may still spread the virus.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines is still steadily rising on the daily, with thousands of new confirmed cases each day. To date, there are already over 119,000 individuals infected with the coronavirus in the country, and more are still being put in quarantine or isolation.

While there are some individuals who’ve put themselves under isolation because of the possibility that they might have come in close contact with a confirmed case and the results of their tests are still yet to come, there are also others who are put under quarantine after they tested positive for the virus despite the fact that they do not show any symptoms.

These patients, called asymptomatic individuals, are those who have been laboratory-confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus but are not manifesting any symptoms related to COVID-19. (Read: Pandemic 101: A Glossary of All Coronavirus-Related Terms)

According to the World Health Organization, data from March says 80% of cases are considered mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe, and 5% are critical. Despite this, people are still encouraged to be extra cautious as a new study has found that asymptomatic individuals and symptomatic patients carry the same amount of SARS-COV2—the virus that causes COVID-19—in their mouse, nose, and lungs.

Study on Asymptomatic Patients

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Medical workers take nose and mouth swabs, each collected in less than a minute, at a walk-in clinic at H Plus Yangji Hospital in Seoul, April 14, 2020. (Photo from Jun Michael Park / National Geographic)

The study, done by a team of researchers led by Seungjae Lee at South Korea’s Soonchunyang University College of Medicine, found that asymptomatic patients still carry the coronavirus despite not showing any symptoms. (Read: UP Researchers Develop COVID-19 Symptoms Tracker)

The study was performed using samples from 303 individuals who were isolated in a facility in the city of Cheonan where 193 were symptomatic and 110 were asymptomatic. The researchers used the swabs taken from the individuals after the eighth day of isolation and analyzed the amount of “viral genetic material” found in the samples.

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A lab technician divides reagents at TCM Biosciences, a company developing COVID-19 testing kits in Pagyo, April 22, 2020. (Photo from Jun Michael Park / National Geographic)

Among the 110 initially asymptomatic individuals, 89 never developed symptoms throughout the course of the isolation, but the virus was still found in their system. Both groups (symptomatic and asymptomatic) were tested and it was found that compared to the symptomatic patients, the asymptomatic individuals took less time to test negative.

In detail, the asymptomatic individuals tested negative after an average of 17 days, while symptomatic patients took 19.5 days on average to test negative for the virus. (Read: Bishop Pabillo Recovers From COVID-19)

According to the researchers, these findings can confirm that even those who do not show signs and symptoms of COVID-19 may still spread the virus. The team however said that their study mainly focused on the amount of virus present in the body, and not on how it may affect the spread of the virus to other people.

Asymptomatic Patients in PH

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Staff at a hospital in Manila prepare the equipment of an isolation tent installed for patients who will manifest symptoms that could be investigated for coronavirus (Photo from Rolex dela Pena / EPA / Al Jazeera)

Previously, asymptomatic individuals in the Philippines were allowed to quarantine themselves at home, given that quarantine protocols were strictly followed. But they have since encouraged these individuals to sign themselves up to stay in isolation facilities until their test results come back negative.

These isolation facilities are air-conditioned and patients will be receiving free meals daily with free WiFi access and a “graduation ceremony” once they are done with their stay.

Asymptomatic patients are now also able to be tested as the country ramps up its targeted testing.

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