Fauci says asymptomatic coronavirus transmission is possible following WHO confusion

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during the daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at the White House April 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Image

A statement from a World Health Organization (WHO) official this week about coronavirus transmission by asymptomatic individuals being “very rare” was “not correct,” said America’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“We know from epidemiological studies they can transmit to someone who is uninfected even when they're without symptoms," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday. "So to make a statement to say that's a rare event was not correct."

Fauci’s remarks come after comments made on Monday by Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO infectious disease epidemiologist, caused mass confusion. At a news briefing, she said that the spread of coronavirus by people not showing symptoms "appears to be rare.”

“We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing – they are following asymptomatic cases, they are following contacts and they are not finding secondary transmission onward, it’s very rare,” Van Kerkhove said at the time. “Much of that is not published in the literature.”

“We’re constantly looking at this data, and we’re trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question,” she added. “It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward.”

Her comments contradicted what other top infectious disease experts have been saying for months, and ultimately prompted the organization to walk back the remarks the following day.

During his appearance on “Good Morning America,” Fauci said that current evidence shows that 25 to 45 percent of infected people are likely asymptomatic, echoing Van Kerkhove when she clarified her comments on Tuesday.

Some modeling groups estimate about 40 percent of virus transmission may be due to asymptomatic people, she said. Van Kerkhove did not include that figure on Monday but wanted to make sure she included it in her clarification.