Did you know that you can be asymptomatic for COVID-19, yet have the virus that causes the disease?
Being infected and asymptomatic for COVID-19 can be a challenge, especially if you travel, have coworkers you need to interact with, or have planned visits with family and friends.
The COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 virus is an RNA virus. Much like other respiratory viruses, it tends to spread even if no symptoms appear in the person who is infected. In fact, research reveals that about one in four SARS-CoV-2 infections may be spread by people who are asymptomatic.
Luckily, COVID-19 diagnostic tests are widely available, including pharmacy, clinic, and at-home tests. However, you may be wondering how these tests can work if your own body’s immune system has kept the virus in check enough to ward off symptoms.
Let’s take a look at how asymptomatic COVID-19 works in your body and why ‘nucleic acid amplification tests’ (NAATs) such as PCR COVID-19 tests are considered the ‘gold standard’ confirmation test by the CDC for asymptomatic cases.
What is Asymptomatic COVID-19?
Asymptomatic COVID simply means you have no symptoms of COVID and will never have any, yet you have the virus that causes the disease.
Sometimes you don’t have COVID-19 symptoms yet but will eventually develop them. In this case you are considered ‘pre-symptomatic’ for COVID-19.
Normally, COVID-19 symptoms that you should be on the lookout for include fever, chills, shortness of breath, headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and congestion or runny nose. These can also vary a bit depending on the type of COVID-19 variant you have.
However, with asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic COVID-19, the only way to determine if you have the virus is to take a COVID-19 test. These tests are known as viral tests, and the most common are NAAT laboratory-analyzed PCR tests and ‘point-of-contact’ rapid antigen tests.
How can I be Positive for COVID-19 and Asymptomatic?
COVID-19 ‘Viral Load’
A viral load is the amount of the virus you have in your body. As the virus replicates, your viral load increases. People who have a high “viral load” in their nose, throat, and lungs tend to sneeze and cough more. This is called “viral shedding”, and it leads to the spread of COVID-19.
You might think that asymptomatic patients have less viral load than symptomatic patients, yet the health data has turned up some surprises in this area. Research has shown that the viral loads in asymptomatic and symptomatic cases are similar. In fact, asymptomatic COVID-19 patients have been found to contribute “significantly” to the pandemic, and one study even showed they had higher viral loads than symptomatic patients.
This makes COVID-19 diagnostic testing critical, since viral load that leads to viral shedding and contagion can be high even in people without symptoms.
COVID-19 Window of Infection
The ‘window of infection’ is the time frame in which people with the COVID-19 virus are considered contagious to others.
CDC guidelines for asymptomatic folks state that the window of infection starts two days after exposure or, if this can’t be determined, two days prior to the first positive COVID-19 test.
When you are asymptomatic, you should isolate for ten days after that first positive test date, using the CDC isolation guidelines. Once that ten-day mark is met, the virus may still be present, but it’s considered unable to grow and therefore can’t infect other people.
When (and Why) Should I get Tested for COVID-19?
Because COVID-19 is so contagious even among asymptomatic people, testing has been found to be one of the best ways to cut down on its spread. Testing also allows for surveillance of health data to help detect COVID-19 outbreaks and new variants.
People who are vaccinated can also have ‘breakthrough’ cases and be asymptomatic, so testing is the front line of defense against infection in many cases, including:
- If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
- If you’re traveling, especially for business, internationally, or to domestic locations with high rates of infection
- If you plan to visit with family or friends
- If you’ve been in poorly-ventilated indoor environments
- If you’ve been to large mass gatherings
- If your healthcare provider recommends you get tested
The CDC recommends getting tested right away after exposure if you’re unvaccinated, and 5-7 days after exposure if you’re vaccinated.
In addition, screening is testing that’s done in locations with a significant chance of community spread, whether or not individuals have known exposure to the COVID-19 virus. These include places like schools, healthcare facilities, long-term care facilities, and workplaces. Since asymptomatic transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been found to account for up to half of all COVID-19 cases, it’s recommended that people in these facilities follow some strategic viral testing guidelines:
- If you’ve had close contact with someone with COVID-19, get tested twice regardless of vaccination status – once immediately and then again in 5-7 days after the first negative test.
- If you live in a county with substantial or high community transmission and are unvaccinated, get tested twice a week.
- If you live in a county with moderate community transmission and are unvaccinated, get tested once a week.
What COVID-19 Test Should I use if I’m Asymptomatic?
Look for a High Asymptomatic Accuracy Rate
The CDC states that anyone who has been potentially exposed to the virus and is asymptomatic should either have a NAAT test, or have a confirmation NAAT test after an antigen test. They specifically name PCR tests because of their high accuracy rates.
One statistical model case study in the UK estimated that, based on tracked results, PCR tests would find 94% of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases within seven days of infection.
Find an Easy, Highly Accurate Collection Method
Many tests use nose or throat swabs to collect samples. These can be uncomfortable and irritating, and also aren’t as convenient because they require a health practitioner.
In addition, saliva samples have been shown to be more sensitive than nasal swab samples, meaning they’re positive test accuracy rate is higher.
The SalivaDirect™ sample collection method was designed to be gentle and extremely easy. It’s a real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test using a saliva sample, and it enables early detection so that you can quickly isolate if you’re found to have the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
What are the Benefits of At-home Tests for COVID-19?
Peace of Mind
Being able to order a test shipped right to your home means you don’t have to worry about exposing others to the virus if you are positive. Plus if you’re asymptomatic and test negative, you can rest assured that you’re keeping your colleagues, loved ones, neighbors, and friends safe during work and social activities.
The time and hassle it takes to make an appointment or find a test reseller, drive to the location, and go through the intake process are all alleviated with at-home tests.
The SalivaDirect™ method was created specifically with rapid results in mind. In fact, CommunityLab will send your results back to you 24-hour after we receive your sample at our lab.
Order your SalivaDirect™ Home Collection Kit today to get the fastest, most accurate COVID-19 results, whether you’re asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, symptomatic, or COVID-free, we have an option for you.