Can People Without Symptoms Spread COVID-19? WHO Sparks Controversy

COVID-19, coronavirus, WHO, asymptomatic

Earlier last week a representative from the World Health Organization made a statement that shook the world saying that people who are asymptomatic do not transmit coronavirus. 

Many health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and others on Twitter spoke out against the statement.

WHO statement

During a World Health Organization news conference on June 8, Maria Van Kerhove said, “From the data we have it still seems rare that an asymptomatic actually transmits onward to a secondary individual.”

The day after making the statement, Van Kerhove clarified her comments, stating “I was responding to a question at the press conference. I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that. I think that’s a misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare.”

She went on to say, “We do know that some people who are asymptomatic can transmit the virus on. What we need to better understand is how many people in the population don’t have symptoms. And, separately, how many of those individuals go on to transmit [the virus] to others.”

Spectrum of symptoms

Being asymptomatic means never displaying any symptoms or feeling sick. But there are also people who feel a little sick or sniffly for a day or two, and then get over it. So there is a spectrum along which symptoms lie. 

Experts are still not sure when one is most apt to transmit the virus. Some studies say that pre-symptomatic people are more likely transmit COVID-19 before showing symptoms, and that a person is the most contagious right at the beginning of developing symptoms. 

Anywhere between 6 percent and 41 percent of the population may never have COVID-19 symptoms despite being infected with the virus. These asymptomatic cases are more common in younger, healthier people. 

A review paper from Scripps Research found that asymptomatic cases could cause 30 to 45 percent of the transmission of the virus. But it is hard to get definitive results on this since many who are asymptomatic are not reporting or don’t have any reason to know that they would have the virus. 


Since the results are unclear on all of this, the wise thing to do is to still protect yourself as much as you can by:

  • Washing hands often
  • Wearing a mask
  • Not touching your face
  • Keeping a safe distance from others whenever possible

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Medicare World Blog