Recent research published July 2020 testing over 32,480 residents and staff from nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Massachusetts “found strikingly similar distributions of viral load in patients with or without symptoms at the time of testing…”

 Subjects were swabbed from April 9th to June 9th under the direction of MA Department of Public Health.

They compared RNA positive results for SARS-CoV-2 in subjects with and without symptoms and found “strikingly similar distributions of viral load in patients with or without symptoms at the time of testing during the local peak of the epidemic…”

If this holds true for the population, symptom-based screening efforts for patients in dental offices and medical practices could less of a safety net than expected.

The authors concluded that:

“existing testing modalities that have been validated for detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in symptomatic patients should perform similarly in individuals without symptoms at the time of testing”.

Patients exhibiting symptoms could potentially be more “infectious” due to higher frequencies of transmission events such as coughing and sneezing, however this data shows that viral loads are similar in symptomatic and non-symptomatic patients.

Several dental professionals have expressed a prioritization and trust in patient screening efforts.

This may be cause for concern if such individuals devalue other infection control methods. 

It’s better to err on the side of caution in most cases.

References

  • Comparison of viral levels in individuals with or without symptoms at time of COVID-19 testing among 32,480 residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Massachusetts. Niall J Lennon, Roby P Bhattacharyya, Michael J Mina, Heidi L Rehm, Deborah T Hung, Sandra Smole, Ann Woolley, Eric S Lander, Stacey B Gabriel medRxiv 2020.07.20.20157792; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.20.20157792