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Around eight in 10 elderly care home residents with coronavirus were asymptomatic when tested, according to a new study.
Experts said the results of the government-commissioned research were “unexpected”, considering age has been considered the “dominant risk factor for severity” of the virus.
The Vivaldi study analysed results from 172,066 residents over the age of 65 from 9,081 care homes in England.
They found 4% of those tested positive for coronavirus - out of these, 80.9% were not displaying typical symptoms associated with coronavirus, including a high temperature, new or continuous cough, and loss of taste and smell.
Sarah Harper, professor of gerontology at the University of Oxford, said the results showed “we need to be careful about the general assertions around the impact of certain population characteristics.”
“Our early conclusions that younger people were generally asymptomatic, but older adults were less likely to be, has now been questioned,” she said.
“This survey further emphasises that the disease is complex and its progress and impact still unclear.
“There has been a general assumption in some media reports that Covid-19 was a death sentence for all older people – this study emphasises that many older adults as well as younger people can have the disease mildly.”
The study also showed higher levels of coronavirus among care home staff, particularly among temporary staff who work in multiple care homes or settings.
Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have showed almost 20,000 care home residents in England and Wales have died with coronavirus in their care home or in hospital.
Death certificates for 19,394 residents included the mention of “novel coronavirus” between March 2 and June 12, meaning Covid-19 accounted for 29% of the deaths of care home residents during this period.
The new figures released on Friday push the overall care home resident death figure 32% higher than the 14,658 deaths in care homes reported by the ONS on Tuesday.
The study also found that care homes in which staff receive sick pay are less likely to have cases of coronavirus in residents, compared with those care homes where staff do not receive sick pay.
Around 93% of care homes are thought to offer sick pay to their staff, meaning that employees at some 7% of homes are left without support should they fall ill, and may have been forced to choose between staying off work with symptoms, and being able to support their families.
Furthermore, care homes using bank or agency carers more frequently – either most days or every day – are more likely to have more cases of infection among staff than care homes that never use bank or agency workers.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.