WHO Walks Back Shocking Statement About Asymptomatic Coronavirus Spread

A security police officer controls the temperature of a government official at the entrance to the La Moneda presidential palace.
Marcelo Hernandez / Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) shocked many when it stated that the spread of the novel coronavirus was unlikely to be caused by asymptomatic individuals, a reversal of previous findings. But on Tuesday, a top WHO official clarified that scientists aren’t certain how much asymptomatic individuals contribute to the spread of the disease.

As The Inquisitr previously reported, early research suggested that the virus was able to spread even when an individual didn’t have any symptoms of COVID-19. This prompted many locations to implement social distancing measures aimed at addressing asymptomatic transmitters. Some studies have suggested that asymptomatic individuals could be responsible for up to half of the spread happening around the world.

But the WHO announced that it seems this asymptomatic method of transmission is less common than previously thought by scientists.

“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” WHO expert Dr. Maria Van Kerkove said. “It’s very rare.”

On Tuesday, at a question-and-answer session about the novel coronavirus, Van Kerkhove clarified her statements, as Stat News reported.

“The majority of transmission that we know about is that people who have symptoms transmit the virus to other people through infectious droplets,” she said. “But there are a subset of people who don’t develop symptoms, and to truly understand how many people don’t have symptoms, we don’t actually have that answer yet.”

It appears that some of the miscommunication comes from how to define asymptomatic. The term “asymptomatic” is sometimes used to describe people who are “presymptomatic.” In other words, these individuals are infected with the disease and not technically asymptomatic, as they will begin showing symptoms in the future.

It is the individuals who carry the disease but never show any symptoms of illness at all who appear to rarely spread the disease, from what scientists can determine so far. But even this data isn’t totally settled.

“We are constantly looking at this data and we’re trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question,” Van Kerkove said.

The Harvard Global Health Institute pushed back on WHO’s original message, saying that it created “confusion.” It explained that the current evidence confirms that people without symptoms do spread the disease and that people may be most infectious in the days when they are carrying the virus but are not yet showing symptoms.