The issue with putting a reliable figure on the rate of asymptomatic COVID-19 is distinguishing between people who are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic, says Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious-disease researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine in California. “Asymptomatic is someone who never developed symptoms ever throughout the course of their disease, and pre-symptomatic is somebody who has mild symptoms before they do go on to develop symptoms,” Kuppalli says. There is also no standardized accepted definition of that, she says.

Research early in the pandemic suggested that the rate of asymptomatic infections could be as high as 81%. But a meta-analysis published last month1, which included 13 studies involving 21,708 people, calculated the rate of asymptomatic presentation to be 17%. The analysis defined asymptomatic people as those who showed none of the key COVID-19 symptoms during the entire follow-up period, and the authors included only studies that followed participants for at least seven days. Evidence suggests that most people develop symptoms in 7–13 days, says lead author Oyungerel Byambasuren, a biomedical researcher at the Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare at Bond University in Gold Coast, Australia.