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1 in 5 Coronavirus Infections Are Asymptomatic But Still Contagious

Unless you’re experiencing a cough, trouble breathing, fever or chills, you may think you’re in the clear as far as coronavirus for the time being. Think again– did you know that as many as one in five coronavirus infections are asymptomatic, but still contagious? This means that you can have coronavirus without feeling sick at all.

What it Means to be Asymptomatic

In a study published by PLOS Medicine, we discovered that a majority of people who catch the coronavirus will experience symptoms at one point throughout the virus’s course. This study determined that one in five, or about twenty percent of those who caught coronavirus, had no symptoms whatsoever.

In addition, some people who catch coronavirus experience a delayed onset of their symptoms. That means that you may be “presymptomatic”: you’re a carrier of the virus and able to spread it to other people, and you don’t feel any symptoms yet, but within a few days you’ll likely begin to experience fever, chills, cough, loss of taste or smell, and so on.

However, don’t forget: even if you’re pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, you’re still able to spread the virus to other people, who may experience life-threatening symptoms.

How to Catch an Asymptomatic or Pre-symptomatic Infection

You might be asking yourself: if I experience no coronavirus-like symptoms, how can I know whether I should get tested or not?

This is where it gets tricky, because the only way to catch an asymptomatic infection is to know whether you’ve come into contact with anyone who has the virus.

If you live with, work with, or have otherwise interacted with anyone who has recently tested positive for coronavirus, you must get tested whether or not you experience symptoms. Getting tested is sometimes the only way to know whether that person has passed the virus onto you.

Also, if you know someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, be sure to limit contact with that person (as much as you can) for at least 14 days.

If you don’t live with this person, that means you shouldn’t see them for at least two weeks after the day they tested positive for the virus.

If you do live with them, however, it’ll obviously be more challenging to limit contact with them. Here's what to do if you live with someone who has the coronavirus, according to the CDC:

  1. First, of course, you should get tested yourself.

  2. Avoid hugging, kissing, or sharing food or drinks.

  3. Use separate bathrooms, if possible.

  4. Maintain at least six feet of distance from the person who is sick.

  5. Regularly disinfect all shared surfaces, such as countertops, doorknobs, and sink handles.

Of course, you should follow these social distancing guidelines if somebody in your household has tested positive for coronavirus, whether they experience symptoms or not. Remember that if you catch coronavirus, even if you experience no symptoms or mild symptoms, you’re more likely to spread the virus to someone who may experience life-threatening symptoms.

Why You Should Strive to Prevent Asymptomatic Infections

You may think that catching the coronavirus is not a big deal if you experience no symptoms– but think again.

As we mentioned above, whether or not you experience any symptoms, if you catch the virus you can spread it.

In fact, doctors believe that asymptomatic infections are likely the biggest spreader of the coronavirus worldwide. This is almost impossible to measure scientifically, of course, because those with no coronavirus symptoms are unlikely to get tested unless they’ve come into contact with someone who has the virus.

It makes sense, though, that those who’ve experienced no coronavirus symptoms are more likely to go out into public and unknowingly spread the virus. This is why, as we’ll explain below, hygiene measures are as important as ever.

How to Prevent Asymptomatic Infections

Whether or not you think you have the coronavirus, you must still practice hygiene measures such as social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing, in order to prevent the spread of the virus. As we mentioned above, you may be spreading the virus without even knowing it.

You can prevent the spread by taking these hygiene measures anytime you’re in public or with a group of people outside of your immediate household:

  1. Wear a mask. Always wear a mask that covers both your nose and mouth anytime you’re in public or interacting with anybody outside of your immediate household.

  2. Physically distance yourself from other people. Aside from members of your household (unless any of them have the coronavirus), ensure you always stay six feet away from anybody you interact with.

  3. Avoid physical contact. Staying six feet away also means to avoid shaking hands, hugging, kissing, or touching other people in any way to prevent the spread of the virus.

  4. Wash your hands often. Aim to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer every thirty minutes, and always wash your hands after eating or using the bathroom, for at least twenty seconds at a time.

  5. Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow crease, not with your hand.

In conclusion, remember that even if you aren’t experiencing coronavirus symptoms, you may still be carrying and spreading the virus– about one in five people who catch the coronavirus are asymptomatic. So, it follows that you must work to prevent the spread of the virus at all times, not just if you’re feeling sick. Follow the above guidelines to keep everybody in your community safe!

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The content on this page is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Patients should not use the information presented on this page for diagnosing a health-related issue or disease. Before taking any medication or supplements, patients should always consult a physician or qualified healthcare professional for medical advice or information about whether a drug is safe, appropriate or effective.