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Study shows how COVID-19 can spread in care facilities before symptoms develop

A summary of new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine

A new study aimed to understand how COVID-19 can spread between residents and members of staff in care facilities. Older people and those with medical conditions are more at risk of severe symptoms of COVID-19. This presents a problem for care facilities where many older people live, and often have underlying health conditions.

What did the study look at?

The research looked at the strategies used to prevent the virus from spreading. It considered whether isolating people once they start showing symptoms was an effective way to prevent the spread of the virus.  

Researchers tested people living at a nursing facility in the USA for COVID-19. The tests were conducted twice, two weeks apart. They also recorded any symptoms that had been present during the 14 days before the test.

What do the results show?

The results found that COVID-19 spread quickly and widely at this care facility. 57 out of 89 residents tested positive for COVID-19. More than half the residents who tested positive for the virus were not showing any symptoms at the time they were tested. The study found that on average, it took 4 days for symptoms to develop after a positive test.

Why is this important?

The results of this study suggest that it is likely that people who have the virus, but have not yet developed symptoms, are still passing it on to other people. Currently, many strategies aimed at controlling the infection focus on people who are showing symptoms. This study found that this was not an effective approach to prevent the infection from spreading.

The authors hope that the results can help healthcare organisations develop the best strategies to prevent the spread of the infection in care facilities.

Read the original research paper

Title: Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infections and Transmission in a Skilled Nursing Facility

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2008457?query=RP

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