Iceland: Coronavirus Testing Suggests 50% of Cases are Asymptomatic

Nurse Canan Emcan shows a test kit for coronavirus samples at the isolation ward of the Uniklinikum Essen university hospital in Essen, western Germany, on March 9, 2020. - The number of coronavirus cases in Germany has passed 1,000, official data from the Robert Koch Institute disease control centre showed. …

A laboratory in Iceland found through wide-scale testing for the Chinese coronavirus that roughly 50 percent of people who test positive have no symptoms, which may offer some insight into how asymptomatic people are playing a role in spreading the disease.

As of Tuesday, Iceland had tested more than 17,900 people for the Wuhan coronavirus, which is nearly five percent of its population, according to CNN. The report added that nearly half of the island nation’s tests have been conducted on the wider population, not just those who are high-risk or showing symptoms of the virus.

One person who may concur with Iceland’s findings — given his own experience with the virus — would be United States Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

“I believe we need more testing immediately, even among those without symptoms,” said Paul, the first U.S. senator to be confirmed as infected with the coronavirus — who also testified to feeling no symptoms of the virus.

“The nature of COVID-19 put me, and us all, in a Catch-22 situation,” he added. “I didn’t fit the criteria for testing or quarantine. I had no symptoms and no specific encounter with a COVID-19 positive person.”

“I had, however, traveled extensively in the U.S. and was required to continue doing so to vote in the Senate,” said Paul. “That, together with the fact that I have a compromised lung, led me to seek testing.”

In Iceland, the tests are being conducted by the biopharma company deCODE Genetics, which has a screening program that accepts “everybody who is not showing symptoms and not currently in quarantine,” according to Iceland’s Directorate of Health.

“Keep in mind that the screening is now randomized, but voluntary so there is some bias in the data,” said the Directorate of Health, according to CNN, adding that a “randomized screening program has started and a blood serum screening for antibodies is planned.”

Kári Stefánsson, the founder of deCODE Genetics, noted that “because we are screening the general population, we are catching people early in the infection before they start showing symptoms.”

“We can determine the geographic origin of the virus in every single [virus] in Iceland,” continued Stefánsson, noting that there are specific, minor mutations for the virus that came from Italy, Austria, and the United Kingdom.

“There was one that is specific to the west coast of the United States,” he added.

Stefánsson also mentioned that he is now curious about whether mutations in the virus are “responsible, in some way, for how differently people respond to it,” and if a person’s genetics could be a factor in how their body responds to the virus.

“Some just develop a mild cold, while some people need a respirator,” noted Stefánsson, adding, “Or is it a combination of these two?”

DeCODE Genetics may be able to find out, as the company already has the medical and genotype data of nearly half of Iceland’s population, reports CNN.

While some suggest that Iceland’s small population makes it convenient for large-scale testing, Stefánsson insists that it has “nothing to do with the size of the population” but is rather due to how well-prepared Iceland was for the coronavirus.

Still, some might say that Iceland’s scant population of 364,000 people — barely the same size of Cleveland, Ohio — likely plays some type of role in the nation’s ability to respond to the Wuhan virus.

According to Icelandic data, the country has 1,220 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 982 people in isolation, and 7,822 in quarantine.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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