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Up to 86% of coronavirus infections are missed

Construction workers walk across an empty street in Seattle’s South Lake Union district, where thousands of Amazon employees typically work. The area is much quieter in the wake of work-from-home policies put in place as a response to the Seattle area’s coronavirus outbreak. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Computer modeling of the coronavirus outbreak’s course in China, in the weeks before a travel shutdown was imposed on Jan. 23, suggest that 86% of the infections went undocumented.

Those undocumented infections were about half as contagious as the documented cases, but were the source of two-thirds of the documented cases, according to a study published online today by the journal Science.

The findings parallel other research into the role of what’s known as stealth or cryptic transmission in spreading the potentially deadly virus. They also underscore the importance of widespread testing, even if patients aren’t experiencing serious symptoms, particularly during the early phases of transmission.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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