Woman with no symptoms infects 71 people after using apartment lift

A woman who didn’t know she had coronavirus infected at least 71 people after she used a lift in her apartment block, say researchers.

The traveller had recently returned to her home in Heilongjiang province, China, after a trip to the US on March 19, according to an article published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heilongjiang had not reported any new Covid-19 cases in the eight days before.

The woman – whose identity has been protected in the report – was not displaying any Covid-19 symptoms and tested negative when she returned from her trip but was told to quarantine at home anyway.

Although she did not use the building’s lift while it was in use, her downstairs neighbour got in it shortly after her one day.

On March 26, the neighbour’s mother and her partner stayed the night in her apartment. Two days later the mother and her boyfriend went to a party with a group of people.

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But a person in the group who had attended the gathering suffered a stroke and was taken to hospital on April 2. As there was no clear link between him and the traveller, he was not tested for the virus beforehand.

His two sons visited him in hospital and the father shared the same medical team and items, such as microwaves, with other patients on the ward. He was then moved to a second hospital.

Scientists believe the apartment lift must have become contaminated with the virus after the traveller used it and unwittingly infected her neighbour. The alarm was sounded after her mother’s boyfriend developed Covid-19 symptoms on April 7 and the family later tested positive.

Authorities then began to trace everyone they had been in contact with in the 14 days prior. The stroke patient and his sons tested positive and it was discovered that they had infected 28 people in hospital.

They then went on to infect another 20 patients in the second hospital.

When the traveller was tested for the virus again, she was found to have antibodies which suggests she had previously been infected with Covid-19.

Researchers wrote in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal: ‘We believe [the traveller] was an asymptomatic carrier and that [the neighbour] was infected by contact with surfaces in the elevator in the building where they both lived.

‘Our results illustrate how a single asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection could result in widespread community transmission.’

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