COVID-19: WHO’s Asymptomatic Claim, Clarification and Facts on Asymptomatic Spread

On Monday June 8, 2020, a top World Health Organization (WHO) official, Maria van Kerkhove, who is the WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead caused a stir when she claimed during a press briefing in Geneva that it is “rare” for an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier to spread the disease.

“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual. It is very rare,” Maria van Kerkhove said.

Then, on Tuesday June 9, 2020, following a backlash on mainstream and social media because of the claim, the WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead backtracked on her statement by saying the possibility of an asymptomatic person spreading COVID-19 is “a big, open question”.

“I was only responding to a question at the press conference. I wasn’t stating a WHO policy. I was just trying to articulate what we know. But that we do know that some people who are asymptomatic can transmit the virus on,” she said.

Global Facts About Asymptomatic COVID-19

The American  Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) differentiates between pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.

  1. Asymptomatic means that a person has the COVID-19 infection but does not have the known symptoms of the disease, or feel sick. That means the infected person will not have fever, dry cough, pains, fatigue or sore throat. Other symptoms they will not exhibit are diarrhoea and loss of smell and taste.
  2. Pre-symptomatic means a person is infected but does not show symptoms at the time of testing but later shows symptoms with time.
  3. WHO thinks asymptomatic spread is possible but more research and data are needed to accurately determine the volume and dynamics of such mode of spread.
  4. Health experts project asymptomatic spread could become hard to tackle except people heed to the preventive measures, and or more testing is done.

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