People without coronavirus symptoms rarely spread COVID-19-WHO
London, June 9, 2020 (AltAfrica)-People who are infected with coronavirus but show no symptoms only rarely transmit the disease, said a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official on Monday in comments that appear to contradict the common understanding of how COVID-19 spreads.
Until now, the scientific consensus has been that a significant amount of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, meaning the person shows no symptoms, but they can still spread the virus.
This assumption has driven government policies aimed at containing the virus, resulting in stringent lockdowns based on predictions of large numbers of people spreading the virus without realizing they even have it.
This… changes everything?https://t.co/u8VZ19nMm5— Benjamin Haddad (@benjaminhaddad) June 8, 2020
But this assumption appeared to be challenged by the head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, Maria Van Kerkhove, on Monday – with potentially drastic consequences for global health policy.
“We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They’re following asymptomatic cases, they’re following contacts and they’re not finding secondary transmission onward. It is very rare – and much of that is not published in the literature,” said Van Kerkhove, speaking at a news briefing from the WHO’s Geneva headquarters.
“We are constantly looking at this data and we’re trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question. It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward,” she added.
Isolate people with symptoms to stop spread
Van Kerkhove went on to explain that if the data is correct, health authorities should be able to “drastically reduce” the spread of coronavirus by identifying and isolating people with symptoms.
“If we actually followed all of the symptomatic cases, isolated those cases, followed the contacts and quarantined those cases, we would drastically reduce – I would love to be able to give a proportion of how much transmission we would actually stop – but it would be a drastic reduction in transmission,” she said.
Her statement implies that only people who showed symptoms of coronavirus would need to be isolated, potentially supporting the argument for reopening economies and allowing asymptomatic people to travel freely.
It also casts doubt on the existing health guidelines, which advocate social distancing as essential for public health.
For example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on April 1 that cited the “potential for presymptomatic transmission” as a reason for the importance of social distancing – a transmission that Van Kerkhove is suggesting is rare.