Quantifying bias of COVID-19 prevalence and severity estimates in Wuhan, China that depend on reported cases in international travelers


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 capacity 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, if all countries had had the same detection capacity as Singapore. Using the second component of the Global Health Security index to stratify likely case-detection capacities, we found that the ability to detect imported cases relative to Singapore among high surveillance locations is 40% (95% HPDI 22% - 67%), among intermediate surveillance locations it is 37% (95% HPDI 18% - 68%), and among low surveillance locations it is 11% (95% HPDI 0% - 42%). Using a simple mathematical model, we further find that treating all travelers as if they were residents (rather than accounting for the brief stay of some of these travelers in Wuhan) can modestly contribute to underestimation of prevalence as well. 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 Marc Lipsitch has received consulting fees from Merck. All other authors declare no competing interests. ### Funding Statement The funding bodies of this study had no role in the study design, data analysis and interpretation, or writing of the manuscript. The corresponding authors had full access to all the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.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. A.R.T. was supported by a NIGMS Maximizing Investigator’s Research Award (MIRA) R35GM124715-02. 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]:

MIDAS Network Members


Niehus Rene, Salazar Pablo M De, Taylor Aimee, Lipsitch Marc. (2020). Quantifying bias of COVID-19 prevalence and severity estimates in Wuhan, China that depend on reported cases in international travelers. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press