WHO on confusing comments on asymptomatic spread of COVID-19: 'We're all learning all the time'

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(CNN) - World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday addressed the confusing comments that a WHO official made earlier this week about the asymptomatic spread of novel coronavirus.

"Since early February, we have said that asymptomatic people can transmit Covid-19, but that we need more research to establish the extent of asymptomatic transmission. That research is ongoing," Tedros said during a briefing in Geneva.

"But here is what we do know — that finding, isolating and testing people with symptoms, and tracing and quarantining their contacts, is the most critical way to stop transmission," Tedros said. "This is a new virus and we're all learning all the time. Communicating complex science in real time about a new virus is not always easy, but we believe it’s part of our duty to the world. And we can always do better. We welcome constructive debate. That's how science advances."

On Monday, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead for coronavirus response and head of its emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, said during a media briefing that "it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual."

Then on Tuesday, WHO held a live question and answer session on its social media pages where Van Kerkhove clarified her comments, saying that the asymptomatic spread of Covid-19 is possible, but more research is needed to determine how often it occurs.

The comments appeared to directly contradict guidance from public health organizations, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have said about a third of coronavirus infections may be asymptomatic.

The CDC also estimates that 40% of coronavirus transmission is occurring before people feel sick, meaning they are pre-symptomatic.

This story was first published on CNN.com, "WHO on confusing comments on asymptomatic spread of Covid-19: "We're all learning all the time""