Transmission of COVID-19 from asymptomatic person rare: WHO

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The chances of transmitting coronavirus by a person who is not showing any symptoms are very bleak, Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical head for coronavirus response, told media during a virtual interaction.

“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” Van Kerkhove said on Monday.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Van Kerkhove said that while additional research and data is necessary to determine how much the coronavirus can spread through people with no symptoms, governments should focus on those who are experiencing symptoms, making sure they isolate and tracing their contacts with other people.

“If we actually followed all of the symptomatic cases, isolated those cases, followed the contacts and quarantined those contacts, we would drastically reduce” the scope of the pandemic, Van Kerkhove added.

This is a major departure from the initial findings of WHO that asymptomatic individuals are equally contagious as those with symptoms.

However, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, director at the Harvard Global Health Institute, tweeted out the distinction and noted that the agency “should be clearer in communication, also noting that some models “suggest 40-60% of spread is from people when they didn’t have symptoms.”

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