Coronavirus can’t spread if the patient doesn’t have symptoms, report says

Key information that has been spreading about the mode of transmission of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus or 2019-nCoV is wrong, a new report says.

The coronavirus was first believed to spread even without the patients exhibiting symptoms. A couple of weeks ago, amid the continuous spread of the virus, health experts said that the virus can spread during its incubation period, a time when there are no noticeable signs and symptoms of infection.

Now, German health officials have raised questions about a previous report that suggested the new virus originating from China could be spread by patients who are not yet showing symptoms. The researchers published their report in the New England Journal of Medicine and have raised concerns that it would be harder to control and contain the virus if it can spread during its incubation period.

The team reports that German’s first case of coronavirus infection, a Chinese businesswoman, who had spread the virus to four colleagues, reported she had no symptoms. But apparently, she experienced unspecific and mild symptoms, including back pain. In fact, she was taking an anti-fever medicine.

Coronavirus 2019-nCov Illustration. Image Credit: Creativeneko / Shutterstock
Coronavirus 2019-nCov Illustration. Image Credit: Creativeneko / Shutterstock

The first study about coronavirus transmission

Chinese researchers first said that asymptomatic people or those not manifesting any symptoms of infection might transmit the virus but had not presented any clear evidence. The new information spurred panic not only to people but also to health officials, noting that if in case it was like that, it would be very hard to contain the spread of the virus.

Tracking the infected patients will be easier to perform if they already have the symptoms. This way, airports, and establishments can impose temperature checks or assessments on everyone arriving from another country, for instance, those from coronavirus-stricken countries.

The new study, however, points out that the information was wrong. Take, for instance, the German woman who was first believed to transmit the virus to her colleagues without feeling any symptom. However, based on further assessment, it turns out she had mild symptoms during her stay in Munich.

The researchers of the first study didn’t actually talk to the patient before publishing the paper. The researchers relied on the information relayed by the other patients who were infected. It appears that the patient from Shanghai experienced symptoms while in Germany, including muscle pain and fatigue. She took in paracetamol, a fever-lowering drug.

“I feel bad about how this went, but I don’t think anybody is at fault here. Apparently, the woman could not be reached at first and people felt this had to be communicated quickly,” Christian Drosten of the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, a virologist who did the lab work for the study and co-author, said.

The report authors emphasized that further evidence is needed on how the virus is transmitted and if it could really be infectious even during the incubation period.

“This case of 2019-nCoV infection was diagnosed in Germany and transmitted outside of Asia. However, it is notable that the infection appears to have been transmitted during the incubation period of the index patient, in whom the illness was brief and nonspecific,” the reporters said.

“The fact that asymptomatic persons are potential sources of 2019-nCoV infection may warrant a reassessment of transmission dynamics of the current outbreak. In this context, the detection of 2019-nCoV and a high sputum viral load in a convalescent patient (Patient 1) arouse concern about prolonged shedding of 2019-nCoV after recovery. Yet, the viability of 2019-nCoV detected on qRT-PCR in this patient remains to be proved by means of viral culture,” they added.

Coronavirus is spreading

The Wuhan coronavirus is continuously spreading, potentially spreading to other countries at a fast rate. A second death outside China has been reported in Singapore. As of writing, the death toll increased to a staggering 560 with over 27,000 people infected in 25 countries.

At least 10 people on quarantined cruise ship confirmed to have the virus. The cruise ship, Diamond Princess, was quarantined in Yokohama, Japan with 3,700 people aboard.

Meanwhile, US and the UK are planning of evacuating their residents who are still in Wuhan city, which was locked down weeks ago since the spread of the virus. Further, New Zealand and Australia also plans to rescue their residents. All those from Wuhan will be isolated for two weeks to observe for any signs of infection.

Journal reference:

Rothe, C., Schunk, M., Sothmann, P., Bretzel, G., Froeschl. G., Wallrauch, C., Zimmer, T., Thiel, V., and Janke, C. (2020). ransmission of 2019-nCoV Infection from an Asymptomatic Contact in Germany. The New England Journal of Medicine.

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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