Can people who are "silent carriers" of COVID-19 pass on the infection to others?
And how likely is it?
Those questions are now the focus of many discussions after a World Health Organization scientist suggested that it was very rare for an asymptomatic person to transmit the virus.
When WHO epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said it's "very rare" for asymptomatic people to transmit COVID-19 to another person, it caused overnight confusion because the comment undermined much of why we practice physical distancing.
Tuesday, she clarified her comments.
"Perhaps if I can briefly cover some of the misunderstandings from what I said yesterday," Kerkhove said. "Some modeling groups have tried to estimate what is the proportion of asymptomatic people that may transmit and these are estimates, but some estimates of around 40% of transmissions may be due to the asymptomatic."
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In other words, we don't have a complete picture.
Los Angeles County health officials quickly weighed in.
Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said, "There is unequivocally asymptomatic spread. So I don't want anyone to get confused thinking that asymptomatic people may not be capable of spreading. They are in fact capable of spreading and we all need to keep that in mind."
Asymptomatic people are those who are infected, but don't develop symptoms. But there's another group of so-called "silent carriers" that can also transmit disease: pre-symptomatic people.
The director of infectious disease at Dignity Health California Hospital, Dr. Suman Radhakrishna, said, "We do know that people can shed the virus for about two or three days before they actually manifest symptoms. And so, these people would be considered pre-symptomatic individuals."
Radhakrishna said we still have so much to learn, but the possibility of spread is real. So if you're outside, especially in large groups, she said wear your masks, stay six feet apart, use hand sanitizer and stay home if you're sick.
"Keep that 10 days of quarantine if you've been exposed, and we will all get through it," she said. "But we all have to do our part. Every one of us has a role and a responsibility here."
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