Non-parametric Bayesian Causal Modeling of the SARS-CoV-2 Viral Load Distribution vs. Patient's Age

05/27/2021 ∙ by Matteo Guardiani, et al. ∙ 0

The viral load of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 varies on logarithmic scales and possibly with age. Controversial claims have been made in the literature regarding whether the viral load distribution actually depends on the age of the patients. Such a dependence would have implications for the COVID-19 spreading mechanism, the age-dependent immune system reaction, and thus for policymaking. We hereby develop a method to analyze viral-load distribution data as a function of the patients' age within a flexible, non-parametric, hierarchical, Bayesian, and causal model. This method can be applied to other contexts as well, and for this purpose, it is made freely available. The developed reconstruction method also allows testing for bias in the data. This could be due to, e.g., bias in patient-testing and data collection or systematic errors in the measurement of the viral load. We perform these tests by calculating the Bayesian evidence for each implied possible causal direction. When applying these tests to publicly available age and SARS-CoV-2 viral load data, we find a statistically significant increase in the viral load with age, but only for one of the two analyzed datasets. If we consider this dataset, and based on the current understanding of viral load's impact on patients' infectivity, we expect a non-negligible difference in the infectivity of different age groups. This difference is nonetheless too small to justify considering any age group as noninfectious.

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