A World Health Organization expert said on Tuesday that COVID-19 can be in fact be spread by individuals who show no symptoms.
The clarification came after the organization received pushback from the scientific community after publicly claiming on Monday that the asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 is “very rare,” according to NBC News.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO's emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, shared the update on Tuesday, saying that her assessment that asymptomatic spread was "very rare" was based on specific studies that may not have gone through peer review. She added that the new assessment did not reflect a change in WHO guidance.
On Monday, Van Kerkhove said that based on data gathered by the organization, "it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual," the New York Post reported.
During her comments, made at a news briefing in Geneva, Van Kerkhove explained that the WHO has several reports from countries that are doing very detailed contact tracing and following asymptomatic cases.
"And they’re not finding secondary transmission onward. It’s very rare,” she said.
In February, health officials said that COVID-19 could be spread by people who don't show symptoms. Van Kerkhove said while that may be the case, it is not the primary way the virus was being transmitted.
"It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward," she added.
The doctor said that the coronavirus spreads through droplets, which can be released when someone sneezes or coughs.
She said that governments should focus on detecting and isolating people with symptoms rather than tracking people who might have contacted someone that had the virus.
"What we really want to be focused on is following the symptomatic cases," Van Kerkhove said.
The World Health Organization is still trying to gather "more information" from countries to "truly answer" whether COVID-19 can spread through asymptomatic carriers.