WHO clarifies comment on asymptomatic spread of covid-19, leaving everyone confused

As epidemiologists question the medical credibility of WHO’s comment on the asymptomatic spread of covid-19, the health body clarified its statement.
WHO and covid-19
While changing stances might seem confusing, continue to maintain social distancing and sanitisation! Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
Team Health Shots Updated: 22 Jun 2020, 11:47 am IST
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While the World Health Organisation recently announced that the possibility of covid-19 transmission through asymptomatic patients is “very rare”, disease experts are completely refuting the statement. Experts believe that this statement by the WHO will pose a problem for governments lifting lockdowns since it might incite complacency. 

Can asymptomatic patients cause covid-19 transmission?
Epidemiologist and the WHO’s technical lead, Maria van Kerkhove made the statement earlier this week. But a professor of clinical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Liam Smeeth, states that he is quite surprised by this–adding that he had not seen the data Kerkhove’s statement was based on.

“It goes against my impressions from the science so far which suggests asymptomatic people–who never get symptoms–and pre-symptomatic people are an important source of infection to others,” says Smeeth. 

covid-19 and WHO
The chances of transmission through asymptomatic patients is POSSIBLE! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

In fact, a non-peer-reviewed study that studied 919 people in the district of Heinsberg which has the highest death tolls in Germany found that one in five of those who got infected were symptomless. Although the data on how likely such people are to transmit the disease is still sparse.

How will WHO’s statement impact countries post-lockdown?
Experts believe that it is crucial to understand the risks of transmission that people with mild or no symptoms pose. While governments begin to ease lockdown measures and gradually replacing them with case tracking and isolation plans, this statement can become problematic.

An infectious diseases consultant at Cambridge University Hospital, Babak Javid states: “This has important implications for the track/trace/isolate measures being instituted in many countries.”

A professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at Britain’s University of Nottingham, Keith Neal stated that although the role that asymptomatic transmission plays in covid-19 spread, there is medical assurance on the fact that people with symptoms are responsible for most of the spread of the disease.

WHO covid-19
If we all start to complacent that the war is soon to be over, it might never be over.. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

“This reinforces the importance of any person who has any of the symptoms of COVID-19 arranges a test … as soon as possible and isolating until they get their test result,” Neal further stated.

The worst part? The WHO has now taken back their statement
WHO’s technical lead, Maria van Kerkhove clarified their stance on asymptomatic spread by stating that some people do not develop symptoms, but can still infect others.

“Some estimates of around 40% of transmission may be due to asymptomatic (cases), but those are from models. So I didn’t include that in my answer yesterday but wanted to make sure that I made that clear.”, Kerkhove further explained.

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The takeaway?
Don’t leave the battleground yet. New information is cropping up almost every minute now, but even premiere health institutions like the WHO is confused. After all, this coronavirus is novel and hence challenging to deal with. No matter the risk asymptomatic carriers of the infection pose, countries should not relax social distancing norms and you should wear your mask at all times and follow proper hand hygiene. 

(with inputs from IANS)

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