Asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers highlight importance of wearing masks, doctors say

Published: May. 29, 2020 at 3:27 PM CDT
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When it comes to COVID-19, doctors stress precautions like social distancing and wearing masks as, early on they learned many who have the virus don't realize they do, feeling fine and having no symptoms.

The potential risk of someone who may have the virus and not realizing it passing it on to someone who could wind up hospitalized due to COVID-19 is the main reason doctors now say wearing a mask in public is important.

A word that we often hear is asymptomatic. Simply put, we know this refers to anyone who has an illness or virus without showing symptoms. For COVID-19, primary symptoms include a fever, a cough, shortness of breath. But just because you don't have those symptoms does not in itself mean you don't have the virus, doctors say.

It's difficult for researchers to pin down a perfect number of how many asymptomatic COVID-19 infections exist in the U.S. because of a lack of widespread testing. But researchers in countries where testing has been more widespread testing found a lot of people testes -- 25 to 80 percent, depending on the study -- tested positive for the virus, yet had no idea they were sick.

Those asymptomatic people can still infect others? How many? Again, looking at studies during the COVID-19 outbreak in China and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one person with COVID-19, but not showing symptoms, spreads it to three to four others, each of whom can then spread the virus to three or four more, and so on.

This is why even if you feel fine, distancing from others decreases the chance of spreading the virus, and wearing a mask decreases those chances even farther.

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