Interventions targeting nonsymptomatic cases can be important to prevent local outbreaks: COVID-19 as a case-study
Lovell-Read FA., Funk S., Obolski U., Donnelly CA., Thompson RN.
ABSTRACT Background During infectious disease epidemics, a key question is whether cases travelling to new locations will trigger local outbreaks. The risk of this occurring depends on a range of factors, such as the transmissibility of the pathogen, the susceptibility of the host population and, crucially, the effectiveness of local surveillance in detecting cases and preventing onward spread. For many pathogens, presymptomatic and/or asymptomatic (together referred to here as nonsymptomatic) transmission can occur, making effective surveillance challenging. In this study, using COVID-19 as a case-study, we show how the risk of local outbreaks can be assessed when nonsymptomatic transmission can occur. Methods We construct a branching process model that includes nonsymptomatic transmission, and explore the effects of interventions targeting nonsymptomatic or symptomatic hosts when surveillance resources are limited. Specifically, we consider whether the greatest reductions in local outbreak risks are achieved by increasing surveillance and control targeting nonsymptomatic or symptomatic cases, or a combination of both. Findings Seeking to increase surveillance of symptomatic hosts alone is typically not the optimal strategy for reducing outbreak risks. Adopting a strategy that combines an enhancement of surveillance of symptomatic cases with efforts to find and isolate nonsymptomatic hosts leads to the largest reduction in the probability that imported cases will initiate a local outbreak. Interpretation During epidemics of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, effective surveillance for nonsymptomatic hosts can be crucial to prevent local outbreaks.