Back in April, Béla Merkely, head of Semmelweis University, announced that medical universities will launch a screening program in May to estimate the actual number of people infected with novel coronavirus. Based on a representative sample, 17,778 people are to be examined in two weeks. Merkely, who is heading the project, said on Tuesday that the nationwide representative screening has produced just two positive results from 8,276 tests so far. However, they are only halfway through the research so the positive cases may increase next week.
Semmelweis University, together with Hungary’s three other medical schools and the Central Statistical Office (KSH), started screening almost 18,000 people on May 1st, with the support of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology. The head of the research project, Béla Merkely, said the numbers so far would suggest that there are between 243 and 7,230 people infected with COVID-19 over the age of 14 in Hungary.
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During an online conference, Merkely said that the PCR tests will be conducted with a representative sample of some 18,000 people older than 14. The results could show how many people have contracted the virus so far, how many have acquired immunity, and how many may still be transmitting the virus while showing no symptoms themselves. As there is no vaccine or specific treatment yet, early detection of infection is essential in containing the epidemic, for which a laboratory test, the RT-PCR test, provides the most reliable method.
The current mass screening also tests for coronavirus antibodies in people who have been infected and recovered. The number of people showing signs of previous infection and recovery is nine, from a sample of 1,524, Merkely said. This means that the total number of Hungarians over the age of 14 who were previously infected and recovered, should be somewhere between 22,399 and 92,624, or between 0.27% and 1.1% of the population.
Merkely said that the full results of the screening would be announced at the end of May. The rector of Semmelweis University added that more screenings would follow the current screening, spaced at least one month apart. If there isn’t a big change in the daily infection numbers (published every day on the information website of the operative board), the next screening could take place in September, he added.
A total of 17,787 people were invited to participate in the screening, selected randomly by the Statistical Office from across the country. Tests have been conducted on 8,744 of those people, and a further 2,113 said they will travel to testing sites for the screening, while 354 have asked to be tested at home. No response was received from 1,589 people who received requests. A total of 505 people contacted are currently abroad or have died, and 1,875 could not be reached.
The screening is being carried out with the help of 1,500 doctors, nurses, medical school and PhD students.
featured photo: Csaba Bús/ MTI