When it comes to a COVID case, the virus can manifest in many different ways—and sometimes not at all. It’s predicted that about 40 to 50 percent of coronavirus cases are asymptomatic, but experts have struggled to identify why some people suffer through their sickness while others never so much as cough. A recent study found that there’s at least one way to predict how likely you are to develop COVID symptoms. Keep reading to learn how you might be able to determine your risk for having coronavirus symptoms, and for a symptom that might go overlooked, If You’re Over 65, You Could Be Missing This COVID Symptom, Study Says.
A study published on Feb. 2 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases concluded that COVID patients who had higher viral loads—the quantity of virus measured—in their nose were more likely to develop symptoms. The risk of developing symptoms rose from 38 percent in someone with a low viral load to 66 percent in those with a high viral load. So, the more virus you have lurking in your nose, the more likely it is that you’ll develop symptoms down the line. The study found that identifying a patient’s viral load could help give them a sense of how their specific case might develop. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
A higher viral load was not only a predictor of symptoms, but also of how quickly they’d begin. Patients with a lower viral load had a longer incubation period than those with a higher viral load. Symptoms in people with a lower viral load, if they had them, began in a median of seven days. As the viral load increased, the days before symptoms appeared decreased. Those with high viral loads saw symptoms start in a median of six days, and those with even higher amounts of virus had symptoms in a median of five days. And for more on your coronavirus risk, If You Have This Common Habit, Your COVID Symptoms Will Be Worse.
People with more virus hiding out in their nose are also significantly more likely to spread COVID. According to the study, people with lower viral loads have only a one in eight chance of transmitting the virus to someone they come in contact with. However, those with a higher viral loads have a one in four chance of infecting contacts. According to researchers, the results of the study indicated “that the viral load, rather than symptoms, might be the predominant driver of transmission.”
Study co-author Michael Marks, PhD, an associate professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told Gothamist, “Intuitively, even if you don’t know anything about virology or epidemiology, it would make sense. There’s a lot of virus in my nose and throat. Therefore, there’s a lot of virus in the air that I cough out or breathe out.” And for specific symptoms to be aware of, If You Have These 4 Symptoms, You Might Have the New COVID Strain.
Marks told Gothamist that the study’s findings could alter how aggressively we pursue contact tracing for people with higher viral loads, since they’re more likely to spread the virus.
Virologist Nischay Mishra, PhD, of Columbia University, told Gothamist that people with higher viral loads should be subject to stricter contact tracing. “We need to contact everyone. But scientifically, the people who are carrying more virus, they spread [it] more,” Mishra said. Your viral load can be easily determined with a quantitative PCR test, which is available at many COVID testing sites. And for ways to keep yourself healthy, This Common Medication Could Save You From Severe COVID, New Study Says.