Even Without COVID Symptoms, You Can Infect This Many People, CDC Says

A new study proves that you don't need symptoms to infect scores of people with coronavirus.

The trouble with coronavirus superspreaders is that, most of the time, you don't know that you are one until it's too late. In fact, some superspreaders are asymptomatic, meaning they don't know that they have coronavirus at all. As a result, they tend to behave as usual, which is how they spread the virus to more people than the average individual. But just how many people could you infect without even having a hunch that you're sick? According to new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one carrier recently spread coronavirus to at least 71 individuals in her community, all without experiencing any symptoms of the virus herself.

The CDC recently published a case study about this occurrence, which took place in Heilongjiang Province in China. Though the area hadn't recorded any new cases of coronavirus since mid-March, on April 9, there were suddenly four new confirmed cases. It only took until April 22 to reach a peak of 71 new cases in the area. After testing the viral genomes of all of those infected, the Chinese CDC concluded that all of these cases originated from a single carrier.

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According to the case study, the woman in question had recently returned home to China after visiting the U.S., and was asked to quarantine upon arrival. She was not experiencing any symptoms at that time, however, she quickly spread the virus to friends, neighbors, and family members with whom she had varying degrees of contact.

One neighbor became infected without having seen the woman at all. They had both used their building's elevator, but never at the same time, meaning the virus was likely transmitted by a contaminated button or via airborne particles.

Woman leaving elevator, holding coffee cup.

"Our results illustrate how a single asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection could result in widespread community transmission," the CDC concludes.

This report from the CDC underscores why it's so important for all of us to continue taking strict precautions, even without symptoms, and especially when traveling. Quarantining after travel, washing hands frequently, wearing masks, and social distancing could stop you from being the next coronavirus cautionary tale. And for the U.S. states in the most trouble right now, check out These 6 States Need Another Lockdown, Harvard Researchers Say.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more