The asymptomatic Covid-19 deaths which weren't

The asymptomatic Covid-19 deaths which weren't

A Covid-19 fever clinic erected by the BBMP in front of a Primary Health Centre at Sanjaynagar in Bengaluru on July 6, 2020. DH Photo/B K Janardhan

Over two dozen Covid-19 casualties, which had been declared asymptomatic by authorities, have now tested positive, in a strange U-turn which officials blamed on a statistical error.  

Clarifying the matter, a government official said the patients had died due to late-stage effects of Covid-19 and had symptoms.

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According to the government’s daily Covid-19 bulletin, the first such “asymptomatic” fatality appeared on June 22. Since then, a total of 24 such cases have been disclosed.

The first case involved a 90-year-old man in Ramanagar, who died at his residence on June 20. A posthumous test revealed that he was positive.

Health officials now clarified that no records were available at that time about whether the patient had symptoms or not. In subsequent days, the scale of asymptomatic fatalities appeared to increase, culminating on July 4 when nine cases were included in the bulletin, followed by six more on July 5. 

Dr Thrilok Chandra, head of the Critical Care Support Unit (CCSU), said that improperly transmitted data from hospitals to statistical officers, who released the bulletin, was to blame.

Eleven of the deaths originated from Bengaluru-based hospitals. Some of these cases are especially suspect. One person, who died in a road accident in Bidar and posthumously tested positive, was categorised as “asymptomatic.” Thirteen of the cases also had no reported co-morbidities at all.

When asked if these asymptomatic fatalities were the result of a potentially exotic mutation of the virus, Dr Chandra replied: “Not at all.”

Barring one case, the rest perished within 72 hours of being identified as Covid-19-positive. Dr Chandra added that he had asked staff to “reverify” patients’ data.

“All of these last few cases described as being ‘asymptomatic’ actually had symptoms of Influenza Like Illness (ILI) or Severe Acute Respiratory Infection,” he said. 

SARI is a late-stage symptom of the disease and potentially fatal. Forty-three percent of all Covid-19 fatalities so far reportedly had SARI. 

Several government experts appeared to be confounded by the news that asymptomatic Covid-19 patients had died. Dr S Sacchidanand, who heads the State Death Audit Committee, said he had never heard of an “asymptomatic” death. Another senior government researcher said such a death was scientifically improbable.