Covert cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2: An obscure but present danger in regions endemic for Dengue and Chikungunya viruses

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PLoS One. 2021 Jan 6;16(1):e0244937. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0244937. eCollection 2021.


BACKGROUND: The impact of SARS-CoV-2 in regions endemic for both Dengue and Chikungunya is still not fully understood. Considering that symptoms/clinical features displayed during Dengue, Chikungunya and SARS-CoV-2 acute infections are similar, undiagnosed cases of SARS-CoV-2 in co-endemic areas may be more prevalent than expected. This study was conducted to assess the prevalence of covert cases of SARS-CoV-2 among samples from patients with clinical symptoms compatible with either Dengue or Chikungunya viral infection in the state of EspĂ­rito Santo, Brazil.

METHODS: Presence of immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody specific to SARS-CoV-2 nucleoprotein was detected using a chemiluminescent microparticle immunoassay in samples from 7,370 patients, without previous history of COVID-19 diagnosis, suspected of having either Dengue (n = 1,700) or Chikungunya (n = 7,349) from December 1st, 2019 to June 30th, 2020.

FINDINGS: Covert cases of SARS-CoV-2 were detected in 210 (2.85%) out of the 7,370 serum samples tested. The earliest undiagnosed missed case of COVID-19 dated back to a sample collected on December 18, 2019, also positive for Dengue Virus. Cross-reactivity with either Dengue virus or other common coronaviruses were not observed.

INTERPRETATION: Our findings demonstrate that concomitant Dengue or Chikungunya outbreaks may difficult the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infections. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate, with a robust sample size (n = 7,370) and using highly specific and sensitive chemiluminescent microparticle immunoassay method, that covert SARS-CoV-2 infections are more frequent than previously expected in Dengue and Chikungunya hyperendemic regions. Moreover, our results suggest that SAR-CoV-2 cases were occurring prior to February, 2020, and that these undiagnosed missed cases may have contributed to the fast expansion of SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in Brazil. Data presented here demonstrate that in arboviral endemic regions, SARS-CoV-2 infection must be always considered, regardless of the existence of a previous positive diagnosis for Dengue or Chikungunya.

PMID:33406122 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0244937