What Does ‘Asymptomatic’ Mean?

Thanks to the pandemic, many of us have upgraded our internal glossaries to include a whole raft of new words and phrases — herd immunity, lagging indicator, novel (when we’re not talking about books), and mRNA, for instance.

Add asymptomatic to the list. As the COVID-19 virus spread, it became something that was mentioned frequently when in discussions around why social distancing and mask-wearing was important. Some people could be positive for COVID-19, and never have symptoms. And if you don’t have symptoms, you might never go get tested, which means people could ostensibly be walking around spreading the virus unknowingly.

But why does a virus like COVID-19 harm so many who contract it, but also go unnoticed entirely in others? A recent article in The Atlantic sought to answer that.

For one, the phenomenon isn’t limited to just the novel coronavirus.

“The mystery is hardly unique to COVID-19,” journalist Sarah Zhang wrote. “SARS, MERS, influenza, Ebola, dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, West Nile, Lassa, Japanese encephalitis, Epstein-Barr, and polio can all be deadly in one person but asymptomatic in the next.”

But in a COVID-19 world, scientists are now finding that indeed, viruses can do more than just make someone sick, and that the norm for any virus is actually a wide range of severity.

“A virus, after all, does not necessarily wish its host ill,” Zhang wrote. “A dead host is a dead end. The viruses best adapted to humans have co-evolved over millions of years to infect but rarely sicken us.”

The article is a fascinating dive into why many may have never become ill from the virus, despite having it. Check it out.

In other news:

More than 3,600 U.S. health care workers died in the first year of the pandemic, according to “Lost on the Frontline,” a yearlong investigation by The Guardian and Kaiser Health Network to track such deaths.

Dallas County health officials reported 294 new cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths Friday, and 275 new cases and 10 deaths on Saturday.

Nearly 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine is being shipped to providers across Texas, with 796,360 first doses going to 468 providers in 116 counties, and additional 500,000 first and second doses going to pharmacies, federally-qualified health centers and dialysis centers. To see where vaccines are being delivered locally, click here.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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