Asymptomatic or symptomatic, you are still a threat

3rd July 2020: Being asymptomatic means that you have an illness but are not showing any symptoms of it. Asymptomatic illnesses usually include chronic diseases like high blood pressure, and may also include infections like the flu.

However, being asymptomatic does not mean that person is not a threat to others, as that person is capable of spreading a contagious illness nonetheless.

When you are sick, you often notice various symptoms like coughing, sneezing, headache, fever, etc.

However, at times, you can be sick without knowing it and this type of illness is called asymptomatic- they are present without symptoms.

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Epidemiologist Aaron E. Glatt, MD, chairman of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau share that there are various long-term medical conditions and short-term illnesses that have no symptoms.

Millions of people around the globe have what is called silent, or latent, infections, says Glatt. They are called latent because some bacteria and viruses transmit infections for which there may be no symptoms at all.

Glatt shared, ‘People can go through their whole lives having an asymptomatic illness such as tuberculosis, which we call latent tuberculosis.’

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Furthermore, a study published in The Lancet found that 77% of flu infections didn’t have symptoms. This may be the case due to having preexisting immunity to the infection.

Certain chronic illnesses, like high blood pressure (hypertension), do not show any symptoms. Therefore it is also called the ‘silent killer’ since it develops over time and damages the body, without the person even knowing what is going on.

The following common diseases can occur without any symptoms:
• Hypertension (high blood pressure)
• Hepatitis B and C
• Herpes simplex virus (HSV)
• Type II diabetes
• Glaucoma
• Osteoporosis
• Respiratory diseases, like the flu or COVID-19

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Most asymptomatic illnesses like diabetes or hypertension are not contagious. However, illnesses like the flu or common cold are still contagious, even if you do not have any symptoms and are capable of spreading it to others.

According to a study published in Public Health Reports in 2009, one in three people with the flu is asymptomatic.

Accordingly, some researchers believe that the rate of influenza spread by asymptomatic people is about one third to one half of the rate spread by people with symptoms.

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However, the evidence for asymptomatic influenza transmission is very less because it is difficult to track who has the flu if they do not show any symptoms.

Glatt explained, ‘With many illnesses, especially viral illnesses, you’re generally contagious in the day or two beforehand and during the first few days of illness. We don’t really know how many people without symptoms spread the illness, but it’s certainly possible.’

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