by Dr. Bipin Singh
Schools of Engineering and Technology
How many individuals do not experience any symptoms after becoming infected with Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)? And what is their role in transmission of Covid-19? These have been the important questions since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. A common perception about Covid-19 is that an individual is considered infected if he/she develops symptoms during the course of infection, however what about many potential Covid-19 infections that never develop any symptoms since they are asymptomatic.
A recent report in the reputed international journal SCIENCE reviewed this aspect and strongly emphasized that the asymptomatic individuals can spread Covid-19 after certain days of infection. Since, it is established now that asymptomatic individuals can also transmit the Covid-19 infections unknowingly, our testing and mitigation efforts should not focus only on identifying and isolating individuals with symptoms. Transmission without symptoms can critically contribute to the spread of Covid-19 and presents a considerable challenge in the prevention of spread of infection. Estimating the prevalence and transmission from asymptomatic individuals is almost impossible without community surveillance screening and strategic testing. Thus, it is very important to know and understand the infectiousness and overall contribution of asymptomatic Covid-19 infections towards the reported symptomatic Covid-19 infections.
Though the prevalence of asymptomatic cases is not well understood, and still debatable, recent studies suggest that asymptomatic cases can contribute between 30-80% of the total transmission of Covid-19 infections. Therefore, we cannot ignore the role of asymptomatic cases in the transmission of Covid-19 in India and the recent surge in Covid-19 cases in many states due to laxity of Covid-19 appropriate behavior. Since there is more emphasis on identification, testing and treatment of individuals with symptoms, the threat posed by asymptomatic infections is not a priority. However, it is important to emphasize that asymptomatic infections also need continuous surveillance and interventions, since asymptomatic individuals are more likely to spread the infections without knowing about it. In case of absence of strong surveillance and strategic testing of asymptomatic infections, it is important to boost our personal efforts to reduce the transmission of virus. Thus, the Covid-19 appropriate behavior is must regardless of the presence or absence of any symptoms.
Further, the asymptomatic infections pose an equivalent threat since people without symptoms are more likely to be out in community and not following Covid-19 appropriate behavior. The bottom line is that we need to strongly convey these key messages among public that an individual can be Covid-19 asymptomatic and still spread infection without knowing. Thus, the requirement of mask and social distancing is not only for protection from Covid-19 but also to avoid the spread of Covid-19 from asymptomatic individuals. This message needs to be widely circulated to make people understand this important fact, otherwise getting rid from this virus completely is not going to be easy exercise for India. The message is very clear unless there is a strong emphasis on surveillance, strategic testing and appropriate epidemiological initiative, the asymptomatic transmission will act like a smokeless fire and it will be difficult to completely get rid from Covid-19 for India.
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