Understanding and Preventing the Asymptomatic Transmission of COVID-19

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Asymptomatic cases gained a heat when the WHO’s COVID technical head claimed that asymptomatic transmission is very rare. Soon people around the world started raising questions. After that WHO called a social media interaction with Van Kerkhove where she clarified that according to some modelling studies transmission from asymptomatic patients could be high as 40%. This article helps to understand the asymptomatic cases and why they do matter.

What is Asymptomatic Transmission?

SARS-CoV-2 produces a wide range of clinical manifestations. This includes cough, fever, head ache, body ache and difficulty in breathing. When people do get sick from the coronavirus, it takes on an average 5 days to develop symptoms. Some people infected by it could never develop these symptoms.

These patients are asymptomatic. They can at any time transfer the virus to the other person. Whereas in the pre symptomatic stage patients develop symptoms much after the infection. It is impossible to know about the asymptomatic transmission and are only estimates. If this was not true there would be no need for the universal use of masks. In such a scenario only people who showed the symptoms would be required to cover the faces. Also, containing the virus would be easier by isolating the persons who are further infected.

How Far does the Asymptomatic Transmission take place

The estimates of these asymptomatic transmission vary. A study from China published in nature medicine estimated that 44% of cases who contracted the disease got infected from those persons who have no symptoms. A study published by the CDC on an outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt that infected 1,100 crew members found that 1 out of 5 who tested positive reported no symptoms.

Another study on South Korea found three out of 28 patients who contracted the disease were asymptomatic. Yet another study published on coronavirus cases in children on April 6, the US CDC said the asymptomatic cases were about 1.3 per cent. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that asymptomatic cases are not understood. In India ICMR issued that 80% of cases infected were asymptomatic. But, there is no official research conducted on their end. These findings suggest that cases vary across countries. Its not practical or possible to get hold of asymptomatic transmission.

Available evidence from contact tracing by countries suggests that asymptomatically infected individuals are much less likely to transmit the virus. A subset of studies and data shared by some countries on detailed cluster investigations and contact tracing activities reported that asymptomatically-infected individuals are much less likely to transmit the virus. The official statement from WHO states that there is no asymptomatic transmission. Other countries completely deny the fact through the evidence of their research.

Situation in India

As stated earlier ICMR has given varying figures on the cases. Dr. Gangakhedkar of ICMR stated that 69% of all COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic. But a study on all positive cases till April 30 returned a figure of 28% asymptomatic patients in total of 40,184.

How does Asymptomatic transmission occur

A person who has symptoms of COVID can transfer the virus through coughing and sneezing. But how can asymptomatic person who has no symptoms can transfer is a matter of serious concern. COVID-19 till now is not air borne. It is a heavy virus which needs medium to transmit. So an asymptomatic person can transmit the virus while singing, heavy breathing at gym or by any activity which involves heavy pressure on the Lungs.

Ways to protect from asymptomatic transmission

Universal use of masks is a must. This is the way in which asymptomatic person can prevent the spread of the virus. It is also important to maintain a distance of atleast 1 meter from any individual. Handwash after coming home from work and use of sanitizer on things purchased is a must. At home, it is best to wear a mask, especially if there are elderly people in the house.

WHO recommends to wear a fabric mask for people who are living in areas of active cases. The virus has come up with different structures across the countries. This makes the invention of vaccine impossible soon. It is better to use as much of online delivery services for essential items and thereafter sanitizing them.

Conclusion

There is still no proper evidence of asymptomatic transmission. In other way asymptomatic transmission is good. People become immune to an infectious disease by either being further vaccinated or surviving infection. Higher number of asymptomatic cases mean that people have become immune to the disease. This is also known as herd immunity.

Herd immunity is an elusive goal, but the prevalence of asymptomatic cases gives some reason to believe we can reach it. But, in this case we do not know the level of immunity which can save us. Still social distancing and wearing masks is important.


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