Ratio of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases among ascertained SARS-CoV-2 infections in different regions and population groups in 2020: A systematic review and meta-analysis including 130 123 infections from 241 studies

Xiao Chen, Ziyue Huang, Jingxuan Wang, Shi Zhao, Martin Chi Sang Wong, Ka Chun Chong, Daihai He, Jinhui Li

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction Asymptomatic infection of SARS-CoV-2 may lead to silent community transmission and compromise the COVID-19 pandemic control measures. We aimed to estimate the rate of asymptomatic COVID-19 from published studies and compare this rate among different regions and patient groups. Methods In this systematic review and meta-analysis, electronic databases including Medline, Embase, PubMed and three Chinese electronic databases (Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure [CNKI], WanFang Data and China Science, and Technology Journal Database [VIP]) were searched for literature published from 1 November 2019 to 31 December 2020. Original investigations with sample size (or number of subjects) not less than five were included for further analyses. Subgroup analyses were conducted according to different study types, study periods, geographical regions and patient demographics. The STATA (V.14.0) command ' metaprop' was implemented to conduct a meta-analysis of the pooled rate estimates of asymptomatic infections with exact binomial and score test-based 95% confidence interval (CI). Results A total of 130 123 ascertained COVID-19 infections from 241 studies were included in this meta-analysis, including 31 411 asymptomatic infections. The overall rate of asymptomatic infections was 23.6% (18.5%-29.1%) and 21.7% (16.8%-27.0%) before and after excluding presymptomatic cases, respectively. Subgroup analysis showed that significantly higher in pregnant women (48.8%, 28.9%-68.9%), children (32.1%, 24.2%-40.5%), and studies reporting screening programmes (36.0%, 24.6%-48.1%) conducted on or after 1 March 2020 (42.5%, 33.4%-51.9%). In terms of geographical region, the rate was the highest in Africa (64.3%, 56.7%-71.6%), followed by America (40.0%, 27.4%-53.3%), Europe (28.1%, 19.0%-38.1%) and Asia (18.1%, 13.2%-23.5%). Conclusion We approximated that one-fifth of COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic throughout the course of infection. Public health policies targeting these high-risk groups may be recommended to achieve early identification and more stringent containment of the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere049752
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2021


  • COVID-19
  • epidemiology
  • infectious diseases
  • public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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