How China is trying to figure out the real extent of the pandemic

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Chinese authorities are launching a new testing program, which, if applied worldwide, can help identify millions of infected people who are not in official statistics, Bloomberg writes. The so-called immunity passports will also let you know if coronavirus will turn into a new flu, writes Forbes.

China is launching a new testing program amid allegations of underestimation of coronavirus infections, Bloomberg writes. It can let you know how many people actually got sick, and if other countries pick up the initiative, they can find “millions of infected” that are not listed in official statistics around the world.

We are talking about serological tests, sometimes called passports of immunity. Researchers conducting their tests take blood tests from a representative group of people to find out if they have developed the antibodies necessary to fight the virus. If such antibodies are found, then the person was infected, but his body defeated the disease. Scientists then extrapolate the data to a broad population.

In Wuhan, where the first outbreak occurred, researchers tested a group of 11,000 randomly selected people who spent at least two weeks in this Chinese city from January to March. It was also about tests for antibodies, the agency said, citing the local newspaper Hubei Daily.

The results of the study will be used to “adjust” the strategies for responding to the virus, the Chinese television channel CCTV reported . The fact that authorities conduct serological tests in other regions, was reported to reporters and researcher by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention Feng Lu Zhao.

Other countries also conduct similar testing, but on a smaller scale, writes Bloomberg. In New York, doctors and other workers in vital sectors are tested for antibodies, and in Italy, all 3,300 residents of the city of Vaud, located near Venice, have passed such tests. The purpose of testing at Vaud was to create a complete epidemiological picture of the spread of the virus. The results showed that many residents were infected but did not show symptoms.

Moreover, it is China – the epicenter of the virus and the only large country that is already at a stage where you can “look back”, emphasizes Bloomberg. Therefore, the serological testing in this country will be “closely monitored” by the international scientific community.

“The urgent task”

The official number of infections is lower than real in all countries, said Antoine Flao, a professor at the University of Geneva. “Some infections are asymptomatic and cannot be detected by the healthcare system. Some test results turn out to be negative , although the person is actually infected. And some may be misclassified as cases of pneumonia and flu,” he said.

In these conditions, the states that cope with the first outbreaks of coronavirus are afraid of new waves of the disease, and the results of serological testing can help authorities better plan protection against such phenomena, including minimizing economic activity during the fight against infection, Bloomberg emphasizes.

In an interview with Xinhua government agency in mid-January, the dean of Beijing College of Medicine, Wang, called serological testing “the most pressing task” for the authorities, because he will determine whether the coronavirus, like the SARS virus 17 years ago, will disappear or will remain like the flu. In addition, such testing will let you know whether coronavirus can persist for a long time in the body, as happens with hepatitis B in people with a weak immune system, Bloomberg notes. This ability to remain in the human body may be the reason why Korean doctors discovered the “reactivation” of the virus in 51 recovered patients.

Sensitive Tests

Despite the need to test for antibodies as soon as possible, they must be implemented to meet specific challenges, Bloomberg emphasizes. The key question in this case is whether it is possible to judge the entire population of the country by the people selected for the tests, said World Health Organization epidemiologist Jeffrey Gilbert. “China is a combination of provinces with very different population densities, and these provinces are the size of some countries. Without conducting many tests throughout the country, it will be extremely difficult to get a complete picture in China, ”he said.

At the same time, the Chinese authorities have so far disclosed information only about testing 11,000 people in Wuhan, but not about how many people have passed tests in other cities or provinces. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention did not answer Bloomberg’s questions about the study.

Another problem was the quality of the developed tests. Western biotechnology companies launched production of testing systems that turned out to be inaccurate, although states have already purchased them in the millions. The test “should be extremely specific and sensitive,” said David Hayman, professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

According to him, the system should only detect a new coronavirus and not respond to antibodies that protect against other coronavirus infections. The fact is that there can also be antibodies in the blood of a person to protect against influenza originating from the same coronavirus family, Bloomberg points out.

This problem stops South Korea, which has not yet begun conducting serological testing. The country’s disease control center said it is still testing whether certain antibodies respond only to a new virus, but not to others. The agency will not start conducting serological testing until the researchers confirm the effectiveness of the new tests.

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