No Symptoms? Why You Could Still Be A COVID-19 Carrier

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: May 6, 2020

We’ve all heard of Typhoid Mary, a healthy carrier of Typhoid who spread the dreaded disease throughout New York City in the early 1900s. And now, there may be COVID Marys, Johns, and Pats walking among us, responsible for stealth transmission of the novel coronavirus. Scientists believe there are many people who have COVID-19 and are spreading the virus because they don’t realize they are infected.

Recent studies show up to 25% of those infected with COVID-19 don’t show obvious symptoms such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. These “asymptomatic” carriers make it difficult to contain COVID-19, as they can unknowingly spread the virus without ever realizing they were infected. Asymptomatic transmission was reported in a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. The research took a closer look at a 20-year-old woman who spread the virus to her family but did not exhibit any symptoms.

Another group contributing to the rapid spread are “presymptomatic” or those infected with COVID-19 but not yet showing symptoms. A study from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed presymptomatic transmission is occurring based on reports of cases in China.

So why should you care about being one of these silent spreaders? New research is showing carriers are largely responsible for the spread of the novel coronavirus. In a study on the spread of COVID-19 in China, cases without symptoms were found to be responsible for 86 percent of the spread. How does this work? Coronaviruses invade our bodies by hijacking the normally healthy cells in your nose, throat, and lungs. The viruses take over the cells and use them to produce more viruses. Each time you breathe, cough or speak, you can shed the virus and pass it along to new victims, even if you don’t realize you are sick. This is also a reason why experts are recommending everyone wear masks when in public places. So, if you are a carrier you could be infecting your friends, family, and co-workers and not even know it.

The only way to know for sure if you are an active COVID-19 carrier is to undergo testing. A diagnostic test is used to determine if someone has an active infection and involves a sample collected from an individual’s nose or throat. An antibody test is used to determine if a person has been previously infected with COVID-19. This antibody test involves a blood sample to detect a specific type of protein that shows your immune system has fought COVID-19 in the past. However, it is not yet known how long immunity to COVID-19 will last, and research is underway to learn more. Testing is slowly becoming available across the country. Contact your healthcare provider for more information.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.