• Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020
  • Last Update : 09:55 am

WHO backtracks on asymptomatic coronavirus spread, says much is still unknown

  • Published at 10:26 am June 10th, 2020
A TV grab taken from a video released by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows WHO Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove attending a virtual news briefing on COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) from the WHO headquarters in Geneva on April 6, 2020
A TV grab taken from a video released by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows WHO Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove attending a virtual news briefing on Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) from the WHO headquarters in Geneva on April 6, 2020 AFP

Earlier, on Monday, WHO officials said asymptomatic people aren’t driving the spread of the virus, casting doubt on concerns by some researchers that the disease could be difficult to contain due to asymptomatic infections

The World Health Organization (WHO) has backtracked on comments made by one of its top scientists who said transmission of the coronavirus by people who never developed symptoms is “very rare.”

The comment drew vast criticism since much of the world has been in lockdown for months for fear of spreading the virus by people who show no signs of illness.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said on Tuesday that asymptomatic spread is a “really complex question” and much is still unknown. “We don’t actually have that answer yet,” she said, reports CNBC. 

“I was responding to a question at the press conference. I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that. I was just trying to articulate what we know,” said Kerkhove on a live Q&A streamed across multiple social media platforms. 

“And in that, I used the phrase ‘very rare,’ and I think that that’s misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare. I was referring to a small subset of studies.”

Kerkhove stated that studies show that about 16% of the population may be asymptomatic. She also clarified that some models developed by other scientists suggest as much as 40% of global transmission may be due to asymptomatic individuals.

“Some estimates of around 40% of transmission may be due to asymptomatic, but those are from models, so I didn’t include that in my answer yesterday, but wanted to make sure that I covered that here,” she said.

Most of the transmission occur from people who have symptoms and are spreading it through infectious droplets, she said. 

“But there is a subset of people who don’t develop symptoms. To truly understand how many people don’t have symptoms, we don’t actually have that answer yet,” added Kerkhove.

Although coronavirus does spread asymptomatically, the proportion of asymptomatic individuals who transmit the virus remains a “big open question,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said during the Q&A.

An asymptomatic person is someone with Covid-19 who doesn’t have symptoms and never develops symptoms.

Earlier, on Monday, WHO officials said asymptomatic people aren’t driving the spread of the virus, casting doubt on concerns by some researchers that the disease could be difficult to contain due to asymptomatic infections.

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