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COVID-19: Experts worry about asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus
If you are staying with such a person, watch out. Because, experts warn, you risk contracting COVID-19.
KAMPALA - Are you aware that your son, sibling, wife or husband could have COVID-19 without showing any symptoms? Medically, a person who doesn't show signs of COVID-19 is referred to as asymptomatic, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).
Yes, there are people who get coronavirus and live with it until it gets out of their system without showing any symptoms, and without knowing that they have had it. Asymptomatic people carry the active virus in their body but never develop any symptoms, nothing at all, no fever, no gastrointestinal issues, no breathing issues, no coughing, none of that. No one can truly determine the impact of asymptomatic cases on spread until there is more testing.
If you are staying with such a person, watch out. Because, experts warn, you risk contracting COVID-19, especially if you don't wash your hands regularly with water and soap, don't wear gloves and masks or if you don't observe social distancing and use of hand sanitizers.
While announcing the 54th infected person with COVID-19, Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director-general of health services, said: "A truck driver returning from Kenya tested positive for COVID-19, but had no symptoms. He was asymptomatic.
WHO is actually concerned about the asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus, saying there is a need for widespread testing, to get a sense of how many people are asymptomatic. But unfortunately, most health facilities world over don't have enough test kits, so they test only people who show symptoms.
The lack of testing — not only the tests themselves, but the reagents that those health facilities need to do the testing — has been a major national holdup, and the nations world over feel just extremely helpless.
Dr. David Buchholz, assistant professor of pediatrics, Columbia University, says coronavirus is actually quite a significant spectrum of symptoms, from people who are entirely asymptomatic and would have no idea that they have it to people with very mild, cold-like symptoms - runny nose, congestion, sore throat - to people with more flu-like symptoms - high fevers, muscle aches, shortness of breath and cough. Loss of smell and taste are also symptoms.
One of the biggest mysteries is why the virus produces few or no symptoms in around 80% people, according to the World Health Organisation, yet in others, it can lead to fatal pneumonia.
Dr William Hillmann, associate inpatient physician director at Massachusetts general hospital, says they made testing kits available and tested everyone coming into the hospital. The results? Out of 397 people tested, 146 (36%) came up positive. But even more surprising, they were not showing any signs of sickness.
Are people who are asymptomatic also contagious?
According to Hillmann, a significant proportion of people who are totally asymptomatic are infectious for some portion of the time. He says they don't know [for how long] at this point because they don't have the kind of testing available to screen for asymptomatic infections.
"When people are symptomatic, they are contagious. A day or two before they become symptomatic, they are likely contagious as well. A virus builds up and starts to shed, and then after symptoms resolve, people can still be infectious for a couple of days," he says.
"Cases of COVID-19 among home residents, choir groups, schools, nursing homes and families fuel a growing concern about people who are infected, yet feel generally okay and go about their daily lives, giving the virus to friends, family members and strangers without knowing that they themselves have it.
But there are wide gaps in our understanding of how many people fit this category of "silent spreaders" — as they are called by some public health researchers — and how much they contribute to the transmission of the disease," Hillmann says.
"We have some evidence of viral shed even a couple of weeks after symptoms are resolved. It is hard to know if that is an actual live virus, which is still able to infect somebody, or if that is just dead virus that the body is shedding," Hillmann explains.
A Ministry Of Health official who proffered to remain anonymous said that Uganda, just like many other third world countries, is not able to do mass testing to be able to identify asymptomatic cases.
Since there is no real way to know at this point who might have had it, unless you are symptomatic, he says they advise everyone to do their part to help Uganda respond to this emerging public health threat, by doing all of those things that we all should be doing at this point.
Things like: social distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing in public to keep people who are infected but do not have symptoms from spreading COVID-19 to others. The mask is meant to protect other people in case you are infected.
People who get a fever or cough should consider whether they might have COVID-19 and should see health workers immediately. Use of hand sanitizers and keep about 6 feet between yourself and others. And people 65 years and older and people with severe underlying medical conditions should take special precautions because they are at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness.