Why You Could Be Spreading Coronavirus Three Times Longer Than Others

A new report explains how some people—yes, even you!—could be contagious for up to 24 days.

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By now, you can probably recognize the common coronavirus symptoms to watch out for, including loss of taste and smell, fever, cough, and shortness of breath, among others. But what you might not know is that these flu-like symptoms have a much darker side effect. According to new research, people who show symptoms spread coronavirus up to three times longer than asymptomatic individuals.

Researchers out of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Zhongnan Hospital, in Wuhan, China, tested 78 infected patients. They found that asymptomatic people are contagious for only 3 to 12 days while those who show symptoms shed the coronavirus for 16 to 24 days. That means those with symptoms can spread the virus for three times longer than those who are asymptomatic.

And since the coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets via the throat, nasal cavity, and upper respiratory tract, how much of those droplets you release into the environment makes a big difference. If you're asymptomatic—i.e. not sneezing or coughing—then you're not releasing as many droplets, and thusly potentially not spreading as much of the virus. However, patients who are sneezing and coughing expel many more respiratory droplets, which are then inhaled by anyone around them.

Shot of a young woman blowing her nose with her boyfriend in the background
iStock

So how long until someone with coronavirus is no longer contagious? Well, an earlier study, published in Nature Medicine, found that after symptom onset—when you start to show signs of sickness—the viral load steadily decreases until it's barely detected, around 21 days later. At that point, you're no longer infectious.

To protect yourself and others from contracting coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands regularly, social distancing, and wearing face masks. "Currently, those at greatest risk of infection are persons who have had prolonged, unprotected close contact with a patient with symptomatic, confirmed COVID-19," the CDC explains. And for more ways you could be putting yourself and your loved ones at risk, check out If Your Family Does This, You're 18 Times More Likely to Get Coronavirus.

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