WHO expert clarifies remarks on virus spread for asymptomatic cases

Coronavirus

GENEVA — A top World Health Organization expert has tried to clear up “misunderstandings” about comments she made that were widely understood to suggest that people without COVID-19 symptoms rarely transmit the coronavirus.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the U.N. health agency’s technical lead on the virus pandemic, insisted Tuesday that she was referring only to a few studies, not a complete picture, in the comments she made Monday.

Van Kerkhove’s remarks on Monday raised confusion and questions among outside experts and health officials who have recommended and in some places required that people wear masks to try to prevent the virus from spreading.

The “clarification” she provided during a WHO social-media chat showed many questions remain about whether infected people who don’t show symptoms of illness such as fever, dry cough or difficulty breathing can transmit the virus to others.

Van Kerkhove said: “What I was referring to yesterday were very few studies, some two or three studies that have been published, that actually try to follow asymptomatic cases.”

“That’s a very small subset of studies,” she continued. “I used the phrase ‘very rare,’ and I think that that’s (a) misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare. What I was referring to was a subset of studies.”

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