Estimating underdetection of internationally imported COVID-19 cases


Risk of COVID-19 infection in Wuhan has been estimated using imported case counts of international travelers, often under the assumption that all cases in travelers are ascertained. Recent work indicates variation among countries in detection capacity for imported cases. Singapore has historically had very strong epidemiological surveillance and contact-tracing capacity and has shown in the COVID-19 epidemic evidence of a high sensitivity of case detection. We therefore used a Bayesian modeling approach to estimate the relative imported case detection efficiency for other countries compared to that of Singapore. We estimate that the global ability to detect imported cases is 38% (95% HPDI 22% - 64%) of Singapore′s capacity. Equivalently, an estimate of 2.8 (95% HPDI 1.5 - 4.4) times the current number of imported cases, could have been detected, given all countries had the same detection capacity as Singapore. Using the second component of the Global Health Security index to stratify country likely detection capacities, we found that the ability to detect imported cases among high surveillance countries is 40% (95% HPDI 22% - 67%), among intermediate surveillance countries it is 37% (95% HPDI 18% - 68%), and among low surveillance countries it is 11% (95% HPDI 0% - 42%). We conclude that estimates of case counts in Wuhan based on assumptions of perfect detection in travelers may be underestimated by several fold, and severity correspondingly overestimated by several fold. Undetected cases are likely in countries around the world, with greater risk in countries of low detection capacity and high connectivity to the epicenter of the outbreak. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest. ### Funding Statement This work was supported by Award Number U54GM088558 from the US National Institute Of General Medical Sciences. P.M.D was supported by the Fellowship Foundation Ramon Areces. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute Of General Medical Sciences or the National Institutes of Health. ### Author Declarations All relevant ethical guidelines have been followed; any necessary IRB and/or ethics committee approvals have been obtained and details of the IRB/oversight body are included in the manuscript. Yes All necessary patient/participant consent has been obtained and the appropriate institutional forms have been archived. Yes I understand that all clinical trials and any other prospective interventional studies must be registered with an ICMJE-approved registry, such as I confirm that any such study reported in the manuscript has been registered and the trial registration ID is provided (note: if posting a prospective study registered retrospectively, please provide a statement in the trial ID field explaining why the study was not registered in advance). Yes I have followed all appropriate research reporting guidelines and uploaded the relevant EQUATOR Network research reporting checklist(s) and other pertinent material as supplementary files, if applicable. Yes All analyses are fully reproducible with the code available online [][1] [1]:

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Salazar Pablo M De, Niehus Rene, Taylor Aimee, Lipsitch Marc. (2020). Estimating underdetection of internationally imported COVID-19 cases. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press