WHO official walks back comments on asymptomatic transmission being ‘very rare’

An official leading the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 response clarified comments made at a media briefing Monday that suggested coronavirus transmission by asymptomatic individuals is "very rare."

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead, said in a video posted on the organization’s Twitter feed that she was referring to a small subset of studies and unpublished information from member states when making the comments.

“I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that, I was just trying to articulate what we know,” she said. “And in that I used the phrase ‘very rare,’ and I think that’s a misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmissions globally is very rare.”

In contact tracing efforts from other countries, Kerkhove said secondary transmission from asymptomatic individuals was rarely found but conceded the subject is still “a major unknown.”

She also added models that attempt to estimate asymptomatic transmission vary greatly, with some predicting spread by people without symptoms may make up to 40% of transmissions.

Monday’s comments fueled tweets by anti-lockdown activists questioning the country’s decision to shutter businesses in the name of public health, leading to record unemployment and job loss.

"We shut ournation down, nearly destroyed the economy, and have people wearing masks for no reasons other than govt. control," tweeted Newsmax TV host John Cardillo.

Some public health experts noted Kerkhove’s failure to support her claim with published studies, while others rushed to her defense.

“It makes sense,” Dr. Faheem Younus, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, said on Twitter. “Each cough may emit ~3000 and sneeze ~40,000 droplets from a symptomatic patient. The risk is much less with asymptomatic.”

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Kerkhove reiterated some of her points in Tuesday’s clarification video, including that some presymptomatic cases may have been misidentified as asymptomatic.

Other individuals, she added, may have been misidentified as asymptomatic because they didn’t present common COVID-19 symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath, instead exhibitingmuch milder symptoms.

Kerkhove said much research is being done to determine when someone has COVID-19 and is truly asymptomatic, and what proportion of that population actually transmits the disease.

“That’s a big open question and that remains an open question,” she said.

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/06/09/coronavirus-who-walks-back-comments-asymptomatic-spread/5325282002/

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