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Asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic or symptomatic: Who is most likely to give you COVID-19?

In the early days of the pandemic, a scientific paper published in JAMA claimed that an asymptomatic carrier can pass on the virus to others.

According to evidence, people with symptoms are the most infectious because they can pass on the virus when they sneeze or cough. Read on to know more.

Written by Jahnavi Sarma |Updated : June 25, 2020 1:04 PM IST

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, it becomes important to know how this virus is being spread. There have been talks of asymptomatic people being silent carriers of this deadly disease. Governments across the world are focusing on contact tracing to minimize the spread of the virus. Experts offer differing views. To top it all, we know very little about this COVID-19. Scientists are mostly basing their statements on assumptions and scientific studies are still being carried on to understand exactly how this virus works. All this adds to the confusion already there about this new variant of coronavirus.

Earlier studies say that asymptomatic people are silent carriers of the COVID-19 virus

In the early days of the pandemic, a scientific paper published in JAMA claimed that an asymptomatic carrier can pass on the virus to others. Researchers then claimed that 'if the findings in this report of presumed transmission by an asymptomatic carrier are replicated, the prevention of COVID-19 infection would prove challenging'. Meanwhile a letter in The New England Journal of Medicine had also reported that a woman from Shanghai, with absolutely no symptoms, had passed the infection to a German man. But later on, it turned out that the woman had mild symptoms of muscle pain and fatigue.

You never know where the virus may come from

Now, many researchers say that it is very rare for asymptomatic people to pass the disease on. But most of them also clarify that this observation is based on a relatively small set of studies. Asymptomatic people are less likely to cough and sneeze, which is thought to be the main mode of transmission. But they can still pass on the symptom to you. According to evidence, people with symptoms are the most infectious because they can pass on the virus when they sneeze or cough. But then, the disease can also be passed on before they develop. People without any symptoms but who go on to test positive are very likely to give you the disease.

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So, basically, you can acquire the virus from any of these groups of people. You never know which direction the virus may come from. This is why precautionary measures like social distancing and wearing a face mask are so important.

The best way to counter the danger of transmission

So, what is the best way to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19? It all boils down to testing. More testing means that more asymptomatic as well as pre-symptomatic people can be identified and isolated. While evidence suggests that asymptomatic people may pass on the virus in rare cases only, you are at risk from pre-symptomatic. These people can pass on the virus to you even before they develop symptoms. According to scientists, virus shedding may happen 3 to 4 days prior to setting in of symptoms. If such people can be tracked, traced and isolated, the spread of the virus can be arrested to a great extent. However, the greatest danger is from symptomatic patients. But since such patients are already in isolation, you are in a better position to keep yourself safe.

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