Infection Threat from Asymptomatic COVID-19 Patients Around You

Michael Wang, MD., Ph.D., member of AFCR Scientific Advisory Board

The recently announced extension of social distancing guidelines through the end of April is an important step taken by the U.S. federal government to slow down the spread of coronavirus. But the overall picture of the COVID-19 pandemic is still very serious, and cancer patients must continue to take extra precautions every day.

More reports from China, Italy and Iran only confirm the earlier strong suspicion that infected people without symptoms are able to transmit the coronavirus to others. This fact bears special significance for cancer patients, whose immune system is often already comprised. Since priority COVID-19 testing has been applied to people showing severe symptoms, risks are still relatively high that persons not knowing they are virus carriers are unwittingly spreading the disease.

Therefore, it’s important to stress that cancer patients take the following actions to reduce the risk of getting infected by asymptomatic carriers of the virus:

  1. Stay at home! I know it’s an unpleasant experience and demands discipline, but staying put is an important way to save your life and make valuable contributions to “flattening the curve.”


  1. Wear a face covering—mask or otherwise—in public areas. Over the past week this was formally recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As an additional protection, cancer patients should also wear safety glasses (sun glasses or any type of goggles) when going out to crowded, small or enclosed places. COVID-19 virus carriers might walk or stand next to you, but wearing a face mask and protective glasses will help to keep the disease at bay.


  1. Monitor yourself and remain alert for COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and sore throat. In addition to those typical symptoms, losing the sense of smell or taste has been noticed as a possible indication of infection. As of yet, there remains no solid scientific evidence to prove this relationship, but you should report such a lack of sensation to your doctor, especially if coupled with any of the other four factors. A COVID-19 test may be ordered by your doctor to detect for infection, even if symptoms are mild.