Savvides C and Siegel R. medRxiv 2020.
Background and Purpose Many of the statutes comprising the shelter-in-place and phased-reopening orders are centered around minimizing asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission. Assumptions about the presence and relative importance of asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission are based on case reports, the failing of quarantine measures aimed at sequestering ill patients, viral dynamic studies suggesting SARS-CoV-2 production peaks before symptoms appear, and modeling evidence that calculates serial interval between successive generations of infection. In aggregate, these data offer compelling evidence of asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission, but individually these studies have notable shortcomings that undermine their conclusions. The purpose of this review is to discuss the literature of asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission, highlight limitations of recent studies, and propose experiments that, if conducted, would provide a more definitive analysis of the relative role of asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission in the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Methods We conducted a systematic review of literature on PubMed using search filters that relate to asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission as well as serial interval and viral dynamics. We focused on studies that provided primary clinical data. Results 34 studies were eligible for inclusion in this systematic review: 11 case reports pertaining to asymptomatic transmission, 9 viral kinetic studies, 13 serial interval studies, and 1 study with viral kinetics and serial interval. Conclusion Different approaches to determining the presence and prevalence of asymptomatic and presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 transmission have notable shortcomings, which were highlighted in this review and limit our ability to draw definitive conclusions. Conducting high quality studies with the aim of understanding the relative role of asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission is instrumental to developing the most informed policies on reopening our cities, states, and countries.