How infectious are asymptomatic COVID carriers?

Credit: MIT
Credit: MIT
[E]vidence suggests that about one in five infected people will experience no symptoms, and they will transmit the virus to significantly fewer people than someone with symptoms. But researchers are divided about whether asymptomatic infections are acting as a ‘silent driver’ of the pandemic.

To understand what is happening in people with no symptoms, [Muge] Cevik and colleagues conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 79 studies on the viral dynamics and transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2… Some studies showed that those without symptoms had similar initial viral loads — the number of viral particles present in a throat swab — when compared with people with symptoms. But asymptomatic people seem to clear the virus faster and are infectious for a shorter period.

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The immune systems of asymptomatic individuals might be able to neutralize the virus more rapidly, says Cevik. But that doesn’t mean these people have a stronger or more durable immune response — and there is evidence that people with severe COVID-19 have a more substantial and long-lasting neutralizing antibody response, she says.

Although there is a now a better understanding of asymptomatic infections and transmission of COVID-19, Cevik says that asymptomatic people should continue to use measures that reduce viral spread, such as social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a mask.

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