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Covid-19: Wits University Study Aims To Unravel Mysteries

An issue that has left researchers and doctors puzzled about Covid-19 is how some people are asymptomatic and can still spread the disease while others have severe symptoms.

Now researchers at Wits University have started a new study to look into how many people in one household contract the virus and transmit it without any symptoms in rural areas.

Professor Cheryl Cohen, principal investigator of the study, said: “The study will help answer vital questions about how common asymptomatic infection is and how people who are infected with Sars-CoV-2, but who remain asymptomatic, transmit the virus compared to those who do have symptoms.

The study will also examine the role of children in virus transmission, which will be important as the schools reopen.”

Cohen is a full professor of epidemiology at the Wits School of Public Health and head of the Centre for Respiratory Disease and Meningitis at the National Institute for Communicable Disease.

The Mpumalanga component of the study draws participants from communities that form part of the Agincourt Health and Socio-Demographic Surveillance System site platform of the SA Medical Research Council-Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt).

Agincourt is a major research endeavour at Wits’ rural campus in Bushbuckridge.

Professor Kathleen Kahn, who runs the study, said: “Meeting the challenge of Covid-19 in rural South Africa is critical to the national response now more than ever as the pandemic approaches its rural peak. Doing so effectively demands a deep understanding of how virus transmission differs among rural families and communities”

Dr Neil Martinson, chief executive director at the Wits Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Baragwanath Hospital, is principal investigator in the Phirst-C study in Jouberton township, Klerksdorp.

He said it was important to study the disease even in areas outside large cities and metros: “Obtaining more information from settings outside of large metropolitan areas is important. This study will provide more understanding of the impact and transmission in peripheral townships where health services, including Covid-19 testing sites, are not as available as in large cities.”

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