New Delhi: The actual COVID-19 infections in India may be around 17 times higher than the official figure, a study led by researchers at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) suggests. According to government data, nearly 4.5 crore people in India have been infected with COVID-19 so far. However, the study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases (IJID) estimated that the actual coronavirus cases in the country may be between 58 to 98 crores.
The research “has shown that the actual corona infection in India was at least 17 times higher,” according to a statement by BHU.
“The discrepancy observed in our study is due to the overwhelming number of asymptomatic people, which was several-fold higher than the true official infection,” said BHU geneticist Professor Gyaneshwer Chaubey.
“Asymptomatic cases were more inclined towards the younger population,” Chaubey, who led the study, told PTI.
The study involved 88 scientists from 34 research institutes across the country.
The team conducted serosurvey (antibody testing) among 2,301 individuals in urban areas of fourteen Indian districts in six states during the month of September-December 2020.
The most striking aspect of this study was that a large proportion of the Indian population was asymptomatic for COVID infection and the age group 26-35 had the maximum number of asymptomatic people, the researchers said.
Antibody tests in people after any coronavirus wave accurately assesses the actual infection, they said.
The team conducted the research among a large number of people — street vendors — living in urban areas from fourteen Indian districts who are most at risk of corona infection.
“For the first time, we have used a novel approach to estimate the frequency of people infected in a certain geographical region,” said BHU’s Prajjval Pratap Singh, the study’s first author.
Samples were taken of only those people who self-reported that they never had any Covid symptoms or positive RT PCR test.
The minimum proportion of antibody-positive people was observed in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh (2 per cent), while the maximum proportion of antibody-positive persons was found in Ghazipur district (47 per cent) of Uttar Pradesh.
The research also revealed that the cases reported by the government were several times lower than the actual incidence of infection.
Through mathematical calculations, it was estimated that the actual corona cases in India are between 58 to 98 crores, the researchers said.
“The extensive serosurveillance has enabled us to have a clear picture rather than antigen testing or RT-PCR test,” said Professor VN Mishra from BHU, who led the medical testing in the study.
India on Wednesday recorded 96 fresh COVID-19 cases, while the number of active cases increased to 1,785, according to Union health ministry data.
With the new cases, the total tally stands at 4.46 crore (4,46,83,639). The death toll increased to 5,30,746 with one death reported from Uttar Pradesh, the data stated.