WHO makes clarifications on asymptomatic spread of COVID-19

Coronavirus, covid-19
Tochi Juliet

It has been discovered that some can live with the deadly coronavirus and will never display symptoms associated with the virus. A situation like this has led many to ask if patients with such experience (asymptomatic patients) can transmit the virus?

The World Health Organization on Tuesday takes up the task to clear people's confusion about the issue. In life Q&A held by the organisation on the social media platform, WHO officials suggested asymptomatic people only rarely spread Covid-19.

This answer by WHO tends to contradict the guidance by some public health organisations who have revealed that most COVID-19 patients are always asymptomatic.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead for coronavirus response and head of its emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, said during a media briefing in Geneva on Monday that "it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a second individual.

"The majority of transmission that we know about is that people who have symptoms transmit the virus to other people through infectious droplets -- but there are a subset of people who don't develop symptoms and to understand how many people don't have symptoms truly, we don't actually have that answered yet

We do know that some people who are asymptomatic, or some people who don't have symptoms, can transmit the virus on," she said.

"So what we need to understand better is how many of the people in the population don't have symptoms and separately how many of those individuals go on to transmit to others," she added.

Van Kerkhove further said that the asymptomatic cases often turn to be a mild case and not a severe one. "When we actually go back, and we say how many of them were truly asymptomatic, we find out that many have really mild disease," Van Kerkhove said.

"They're not quote-unquote COVID symptoms -- meaning they may not have developed fever yet, they may not have had a significant cough, or they may not have shortness of breath -- but some may have mild disease.

Having said that, we do know that there can be people who are truly asymptomatic."

However, Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, also said during the live Q&A that there is still much to learn about the possible asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus.

"Whatever proportion of disease is transmitting from asymptomatic individuals, as Maria said, that is unknown.

I'm absolutely convinced that that is occurring. The question is how much," he said.

"There's much to be answered on this. There's much that is unknown."

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