Assessing the asymptomatic proportion of SARS-CoV-2 infection with age in China before mass vaccination

Zengmiao Wang, Peiyi Wu, Jingyuan Wang, José Lourenço, Bingying Li, Benjamin Rader, Marko Laine, Hui Miao, Ligui Wang, Hongbin Song, Nita Bharti, John S. Brownstein, Ottar N. Bjornstad, Christopher Dye, Huaiyu Tian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Some asymptomatic individuals carrying SARS-CoV-2 can transmit the virus and contribute to outbreaks of COVID-19. Here, we use detailed surveillance data gathered during COVID-19 resurgences in six cities of China at the beginning of 2021 to investigate the relationship between asymptomatic proportion and age. Epidemiological data obtained before mass vaccination provide valuable insights into the nature of pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2. The data were collected by multiple rounds of city-wide PCR testing with contact tracing, where each patient was monitored for symptoms through the whole course of infection. The clinical endpoint (asymptomatic or symptomatic) for each patient was recorded (the pre-symptomatic patients were classified as symptomatic). We find that the proportion of infections that are asymptomatic declines with age (coefficient = -0.006, 95% CI: -0.008 to -0.003, p < 0.01), falling from 42% (95% CI: 6-78%) in age group 0-9 years to 11% (95% CI: 0-25%) in age group greater than 60 years. Using an age-stratified compartment model, we show that this age-dependent asymptomatic pattern, together with the distribution of cases by age, can explain most of the reported variation in asymptomatic proportions among cities. Our analysis suggests that SARS-CoV-2 surveillance strategies should take account of the variation in asymptomatic proportion with age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20220498
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number195
StatePublished - Oct 12 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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