Last week, 12% of asymptomatic people tested positive for coronavirus in a private hospital in one day in Budapest, while official state tests indicate that around 4% of those tested are infected. National Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller said at today’s press briefing of the operative board that “everyone knows that the number of people infected can be many times higher than the number registered.”
In private hospitals, only those who have no symptoms are tested – otherwise, patients are sent to the responsible hospitals. At the Kelen Hospital, the opportunity for asymptomatic patients for coronavirus testing was announced less than two weeks ago, and since then thousands without symptoms of the disease have applied for the stiff-priced test.
Tamás Székely, head of Kelen Private Hospital, told valaszonline.hu that they test asymptomatic patients, because “the more we test, the more we can slow down the epidemic. Although at least half of the patients are asymptomatic, they can still infect their environment. If they turn out to be positive, they are quarantined, and thus they do not spread the virus further.”
Székely said that the rate of positive infections is basically higher than in the official labs, standing at 5.7% against the official 4.2%. However, it was as high as 12% the day prior to the interview, when 13 out of the 107 patients tested positive for coronavirus.
According to the director, their results are reported to the National Center for Public Health as well, and they plan a follow-up among positive patients to find out what happened to them, how long it took the authorities to test them, and how long it took for them to recover. Their plans also include sharing their results on their website if they reach a higher number of positive cases.
At today’s press conference of the operative board, Chief Medical Officer Cecilia Müller was also asked about the reality of the number of people infected possibly being as much as eighty times higher than the official figures. She said: “everyone knows that the number of people infected can be many times higher than those officially registered,” then added that she believes “it will be worth assessing how many people actually went through the infection besides those registered, at the end of the epidemic.”
The question whether it is realistic that the number of those infected can be 40-80 times higher than official data, arose from a California study. According to researchers at the University of Stanford, with around 1,000 registered infections, the number of people actually infected can be as high as 48 to 82,000 people. The results of the research are disputed by several experts, but according to the authors, they actually underestimated, as the sample is not representative, as they excluded care homes, prisons, and homeless shelters, and mostly included white, female, middle-class people.
However, it is sure that the rate of actual infections worldwide is higher than those tested positive. For this, mainly the few tests performed can be blamed. According to estimations, in eighty percent of cases, coronavirus infection causes only mild symptoms or remains completely asymptomatic and these people are usually not tested by anyone, although as we could see from the numbers at Kelen Private Hospital, there are many of them with the virus, currently spreading the disease further without even knowing it.
Some experts say that we can only make realistic estimates of the actual extent of the epidemic (or the actual mortality rate) if serological tests are carried out on a large population – that is, many people are checked for coronavirus antibodies.
Through such serological tests, we can get quite a true picture of the exact rate of asymptomatic infections, the actual mortality rate, and who is more likely to become infected and ill over others, and, for example, the role that children play in spreading the infection.
On the one hand, this requires caution for everyone, as it suggests that there may be much more infected people in the population than the officially released statistics, thus increasing the risk of infection. This is also indicated by the fact that tests performed on asymptomatic patients also show a higher rate of positive results than the official numbers show.
At the same time, however, it can be interpreted as good news as well, as it suggests that the mortality rates of the disease are in reality lower than the number calculated from the number of registered positive cases and fatalities. This number is unrealistically high in Hungary at 10.4%. However, it is due to the fact that Hungary tests much less than other European countries. If we look at the data on coronavirus fatalities per 1 million residents, Hungary is at the regional average.
featured photo: Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI