How many healthy-looking people in S'pore are Covid-19 silent carriers? Scientists here want to know.

A study is being carried out to find out if Covid-19 has been under-diagnosed in Singapore.

Belmont Lay | May 03, 2020, 03:45 AM

Did you feel healthy throughout this Covid-19 pandemic so far?

Have you not fallen sick at all?

While the rest of the world has been breathing a little bit harder, you say you have remained unperturbed?

But how do you know that you really weren't infected by the coronavirus at all and weren't just "healthy-looking"?

There has been, after all, some chatter in Singapore that Covid-19 might be under-diagnosed here.

To put that question to rest, Singapore, it turns out, is interested in finding out the extent of Covid-19 infection among the entire population.

The National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) is leading an initiative with a key focus on finding out just how many here have been infected, but did not show any symptoms, and most likely had no clue they had the virus.

How to find out?

To determine whether or not someone had been infected with Covid-19, a serology test will be administered to analyse the antibodies in the person.

This test can identify those who had been infected, but showed mild or no symptoms -- which has been reported on before here.

Reports in Singapore have said some people caught the virus, but spontaneously recovered on their own, only to be tested later on as positive cases.

This initiative that Singapore has pledged to undertake makes it among the first in the world to use such tests on a large scale.

What will the results be used for?

The results will have practical implications for policy-makers, such as whether Singapore has achieved herd immunity, the grand idea that if enough people get Covid-19, it should no longer be a problem.

It will show whether measures such as safe distancing and mask-wearing are effective or even enough to curb the spread of a disease as infectious as Covid-19.

It will also show if there are differences between frontline workers and the general population as a result of exposure.

People who generally do better in the face of Covid-19 are typically individuals who are young and healthy.

However, even though they might appear to be immune, they can emerge as silent carriers who contribute to unlinked community cases that can run rampant if undiagnosed.

Such healthy-looking infected people stand in sharp contrast to older people who get hospitalised, as their condition and symptoms displayed are worse.

Preliminary results

NCID has shared the preliminary results of the studies done so far between February and April.

It turns out, according to NCID, the risk of infection is highest among close contacts of Covid-19 patients.

This is compared to healthcare workers and the rest of the population, including children.

Why this is the case has not been revealed.

But it can be deduced that close contacts are not necessarily taking enough precaution against the virus the way healthcare workers do, and close contacts also tend to be from the older demographic given Singapore's aging population in general.

But these are just guesses for now.

The scope of the studies will be expanded in the coming months.

Top photo via NUHS