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COVID-19: Experts worry about asymptomatic spread

By Elvis Basudde

Added 2nd May 2020 09:33 AM

Yes, there are people who get the virus and live with it until it gets out of their system without showing any symptoms, and without knowing that they have had it.

COVID-19: Experts worry about asymptomatic spread

A man being screened for COVID-19

Yes, there are people who get the virus and live with it until it gets out of their system without showing any symptoms, and without knowing that they have had it.

 
Are you aware that your son, sibling, wife or husband could have COVID-19 without showing any symptoms? Medically, a person who does not show signs of COVID-19 is referred to as asymptomatic, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).
 
Yes, there are people who get the virus 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 do not wash your hands regularly with water and soap, do not wear gloves and masks or if you do not 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 asymptomatic spread of the virus, saying there is need for widespread testing, to get a sense of how many people are asymptomatic. Unfortunately, most health facilities world over do not 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, the assistant professor of pediatrics, Columbia University, says COVID-19 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 WHO, yet in others it can lead to fatal pneumonia.
 
Dr William Hillmann, associate inpatient physician director atMassachusetts 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 time. He says they do not know [for how long] at this point, because they do not 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 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 actual live virus, which is still able to infect somebody, or if that is just dead virus that the body is shedding," Hillmann says.
 
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 kkeep 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.
 
 

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