Covid-19 FactCheck: People most contagious when they first show symptoms or even earlier

Nurses stationed by the entrance of Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo recently, waiting to check temperatures and conduct other routine checks.
The Claim: People are most contagious with Covid-19 when they first show symptoms or even earlier.
The Verdict: claim verdict

Claim: People are most contagious with Covid-19 when they first show symptoms or even earlier

Verdict: True

Background: Reports say infected people are most contagious when they first show symptoms of Covid-19 or even earlier, not days or weeks later, when they are sick, a reversal of the usual pattern with infectious diseases.

This makes preventive measures such as wearing face masks, isolating and testing people for possible exposure much more important rather than waiting until the sickness is evident.

In an interview with CITE, Acting Bulawayo Provincial Medical Director (PMD), Dr Welcome Mlilo, confirmed this was possible because this happened with viral infections that occurred in someone before they showed symptoms.

“Is one most contagious when they first show symptoms or even earlier? Yes. This tends to be the case with viral infections. Is one most infectious when they are at their worst state? Yes again,” he said.

“At both these points in the disease progression…viral loads tend to be at its highest.”

Dr Mlilo explained that most contagious meant when the viral load is at its highest.

“With viral infections that can occur before they show symptoms, yes. But with Covid-19 remember, infected people can show no symptoms at all throughout the period. The science also says that people tend to be infectious for around 10 to 14 days after which though while they may test positive, they will no longer be infectious,” he said.

However, the medical doctor also noted that, “clients who are the sickest, probably have the highest viral titres at that point and as such are highly infectious at that point.”

In order to manage the spread and infection of Covid-19, health experts highly recommend the wearing of masks as they are helpful in preventing the disease.

Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr John Mangwiro urged people to properly wear their masks all the time.

“Most people move with their masks on their chins, not covering their noses or mouth. The mask is not an ornament. It’s really something that can protect you,” he said.

“As I am speaking the air I push out or a bit of sputum pushes out from the virus itself and can float in the air for several minutes up to an hour. This happens such that if a mask is not on and where you pass through where I was speaking, you breathe in the virus and are infected.”

The deputy minister said the masks serve two purposes, which are to protect oneself from infection and not to infect others.

“So when we say put on your mask we really mean business, it’s for our protection. The virus is quite violent, its virulence is so much that we need to be very careful,” Dr Mangwiro said.

 As of September 29, 2020 Zimbabwe has recorded 7 837 confirmed cases, including 6122 recoveries and 228 deaths.

Globally, coronavirus cases have reached 33.7 million with more than one million deaths.

Reports said the global Covid-19 deaths are more than HIV, dysentery, malaria, influenza, cholera and measles combined.

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