Take Caution during COVID-19: Asymptomatic, Pre-symptomatic, and Symptomatic Cases

COVID-19 is mainly spread by close contact (closer than 6 feet) with an infected individual, but there is growing evidence that airborne transmission, particularly in enclosed spaces and buildings is causing outbreaks in churches, workplaces, congregate living settings, and gyms. Airborne spread can occur beyond six feet. Therefore, it is critically important to wear masks when you are indoors. An infected person spreads the virus through droplets that are dispersed by breathing, singing, speaking, coughing, sneezing, etc. 

Once someone becomes infected they have a period where the virus is reproducing in their body. No one shows signs or symptoms immediately after infection. Some people will go on to be what is called a symptomatic case which means they show signs and symptoms of being ill, this can range from mild to extremely severe. The time from when these people become infected and become symptomatic is called the incubation period and in this stage people are considered pre-symptomatic. Some people will never show signs and symptoms of illness after they are infected. Those people are called asymptomatic. As some cases are quite mild it can be challenging to distinguish true asymptomatic cases from very mild symptomatic cases. Estimates of the proportion of people who are asymptomatic range widely because of this challenge, but up to 80% of infections are estimated to be mild or asymptomatic. Therefore, all individuals, regardless of symptoms, should wear a mask.

Use the table below as a reference for the differences and similarities between these three types of cases:

Asymptomatic CasesPre-symptomatic CasesSymptomatic Cases
DefinitionIndividuals who ARE infected with the virus and can spread COVID-19 to others. They are infectious, but will not ever show symptoms.Individuals who ARE infected with the virus and can spread COVID-19 to others. They are infectious, but are not showing symptoms yet, although they will at some point during their infection.Individuals who ARE infected with the virus and can spread COVID-19 to others. They are infectious and are showing symptoms.
Infected with the virus
Can spread the virus
Person will NEVER show symptoms
Person WILL show symptoms IN THE FUTURE
Person IS CURRENTLY SHOWING symptoms

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