The coronavirus warning comes after a surge in infections hit Italy and South Korea on the weekend. Chinese scientists have confirmed a case of an asymptomatic carrier infecting five family members in Wuhan, China.
A 20-year-old woman did not fall ill from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) even after her infected family members developed fever and pneumonia.
The case highlights the danger posed by the coronavirus and suggests the number of infected worldwide could be much higher than believed.
As of Monday (February 24), more than 79,400 people have tested positive for coronavirus since December last year.
At least 13 people from the UK have contracted the disease and more than 2,600 people have died, most of whom were in China.
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According to the researchers who confirmed the asymptomatic carrier, the woman is being observed at the Fifth People’s Hospital of Anyang in Henan Province.
Henan sits to the north of Wuhan City, Hubei Province, which has been the ground zero of the coronavirus epidemic last year.
The findings were published in a researcher letter on February 21.
Dr Yan Bai and colleagues wrote: “A familial cluster of five patients with COVID-19 pneumonia in Anyang, China, had contact before their symptom onset with an asymptomatic family member who had travelled from the epidemic centre of Wuhan.
“The sequence of events suggests that the coronavirus may have been transmitted by the asymptomatic carrier.
“The incubation period for patient one was 19 days, which is long but within the reported range of zero to 24 days.”
The coronavirus may have been transmitted by the asymptomatic carrier
Dr Yan Bai et al.
The scientists also pointed towards another case where a 10-year-old boy who also appeared to be an asymptomatic carrier.
However, upon closer inspection, the boy showed “abnormalities” during a chest scan.
The scientists said: “If the findings in this report of presumed transmission by an asymptomatic carrier are replicated, the prevention of COVID-19 infection would prove challenging.
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“The mechanism by which asymptomatic carriers could acquire and transmit the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 requires further study.”
A high number of asymptomatic coronavirus carriers was also found on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Out of the 621 people who tested positive for COVID-19 about 322 did not show any symptoms of infection.
Four Britons trapped on the ship have been infected and have since returned to the UK.
They are among 30 Britons and two Irish citizens put under a 14-day quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital in The Wirral.
The patients have since been transferred to specialist NHS treatment centres.
Two patients are at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, one at the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust in Liverpool, and one at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, a total of 13 cases have been confirmed in the UK and excluding the four new infections, all have recovered.
Globally, more than 25,000 people have recovered from COVID-19.
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