Another issue that the researchers draw attention to in their review is the impact of the new coronavirus on the health of asymptomatic individuals.
Looking at CT scan results for a cohort of 76 asymptomatic individuals who were present on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, they found that 54% of these individuals presented subclinical lung abnormalities.
In their paper, the authors qualify this finding as “disturbing,” as it suggests that even in those who experience no symptoms of infection, the new coronavirus may be causing harm, possibly affecting normal lung function.
Still, further research must confirm whether or not such lung abnormalities cause poorer respiratory health.
Another issue deriving from the lack of adequate longitudinal data is that it can be hard to tell between individuals who are presymptomatic — that is, yet to develop symptoms of infection with SARS-CoV-2 — and those who remain asymptomatic throughout the course of the infection.
Dr. Topol and Oran thus encourage further longitudinal testing to gain more clarity about SARS-CoV-2.
Even so, the researchers insist that the apparent high number of asymptomatic individuals is a good enough reason to urge everyone to wear face masks in public for the time being.
“Our estimate of 40–45% asymptomatic means that if you’re unlucky enough to get infected, the probability is almost a flip of a coin on whether you’re going to have symptoms. So to protect others, we think that wearing a mask makes a lot of sense.”
– Daniel Oran