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The actual number of Covid-19 cases is much higher than official numbers, recent WHO study reveals stunning facts and data



There have been nearly 100 million COVID-19 cases in United States since the pandemic began nearly three years ago, while more than 1 million people died as a result of the virus, the NY Times COVID-19 tracker shows. Due to the high vaccination rate among the US population and the fact that a huge number of people already have developed natural immunity, health experts are convinced that the country won’t see a surge in cases this winter like it did last year and the year before.

Globally, more than 640 million COVID-19 cases have been reported so far, while more than 6.6 million people have died due to the virus. Most countries worldwide now think of COVID-19 as something closer to the flu than a dangerous disease. And that seems to be expected, having in mind that the world, with some exceptions like China, has reopened and people are getting used to living with the virus.

While the number of cases appears frightening today, as the virus swept across the world far more effectively than previously thought, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently published the results of a study conducted last year, which clearly show that the actual number of people who have been exposed and infected with the virus as of the summer of 2021 is much higher than the actual number reported by health departments worldwide.

According to a review of millions of virus blood tests, as of September 2021, about 3 out of every 5 human beings carried antibodies against COVID-19 in their bloodstream. That translates to 10.5 actual COVID infections for each case reported between June and September 2021, researchers estimate. In other words, public health officials found out about only 9.5% of all COVID cases during that period, the study says.

On dozens of occasions since the start of the pandemic, health experts have been warning that the official number of cases presented by health departments around the world, including America, is nothing but an understatement because of testing shortfalls. In February of last year, a research team at Columbia University built a mathematical model that provided a more complete picture of how much virus is circulating in our communities. The study found that the actual number of active cases — people who are newly infected or still infectious — is likely 10 times that day’s official number of reported cases.

At the time, the results of the model didn’t gain much attention because the study had not been published or peer-reviewed, but Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University, had shared the data exclusively with NPR. More than a year and a half after NPR published the article, the results of the World Health Organization’s study confirmed that those numbers were more or less accurate.

“Particularly in the beginning as COVID struck, there was a great reluctance for people to attribute illnesses to COVID,” said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the Bethesda, Md.-based National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “There was a great sense at the time that the reported cases were exaggerated. Actually, they were vastly underreported.”

Although Dr. Schaffner has not been part of the study, he thinks that the findings are accurate since he the virus is known to produce a lot of infections without symptoms or mild symptoms. That is why, according to him, the actual number of COVID cases worldwide is and will remain a mystery.

The study further finds that the official number of cases reported in the early days of the pandemic was even less accurate compared to the actual number of people who got in touch with the virus. Blood antibody tests are considered the gold standard for measuring a population’s exposure to a virus, either through past infection or through vaccination. Between July and September 2020, there were more than 51 COVID infections for every case reported to health officials, the researchers estimate. Only about 2% of cases were reported.

The data also varies between regions around the world. For months, acquiring enough tests was very difficult, and poor countries struggled to buy enough tests, something that was not the case in rich countries. That’s why the poorer regions were more likely to underreport COVID cases. For comparison, the official number of cases in America by the summer of last year was about 50% of the actual number of cases, while the poor African countries officially reported only 0.6% of the actual number of cases.

Although many think that the pandemic is over, Dr. Schaffner urges everyone to be very careful because at least a third of the world’s population still hasn’t been exposed to the virus and is still unvaccinated. At some point, they should also get infected with COVID-19.

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