Ignore asymptomatic close contacts at your peril, warn experts

Ignore asymptomatic close contacts at your peril, warn experts
January 22 -- THE failure to test asymptomatic close contacts may lead to Covid-19 cases going undetected, which would later aggravate the spread of the virus, warn health experts.

The Health Ministry said in a circular dated January 13 that only symptomatic close contacts of a Covid-19 case will be screened.

Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud of Universiti Malaya said, as health authorities concentrate on symptomatic cases, asymptomatic contacts can potentially continue spreading the virus as they may be unaware that one of their contacts is infected with Covid-19.

Not every person testing positive for Covid-19 will voluntarily alert all of his contacts that he is infected and advise them to go for screening.

“This development is rather unfortunate and denotes a failure of the health authorities to adequately manage the pandemic, leading to this inability to cope with contact tracing,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

“There is a danger that asymptomatic contacts will aggravate the spread of the pandemic, especially if they do not wear masks, do not practise social distancing and good personal hygiene.

“If asymptomatic contacts adhered strictly to the SOP, then the risk is reduced.”

Awang Bulgiba said there have to be clear guidelines on what is contact and how tracing works, so that people will not let their guard down while outside their home.

“People may let their guard down in familiar surroundings with people they know in the mistaken idea that they are unlikely to be infected by those contacts,” he said.

“This point is not emphasised enough in guidelines and can be seen very often when we see people not following the SOP in the workplace, when visiting relatives’ homes and when meeting friends.”

Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said while the no-testing policy for asymptomatic close contacts might reduce the number of cases detected, it could also cause the virus to spread widely.

Testing is important because it reduces the risk of potential transmission from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases, said Zainal.

Malaysian Medical Association president Prof Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said health authorities should not take chances and test all close contacts.

“If government resources are stretched, the ministry should engage the private general practitioners (GPs) to help with contact tracing and testing of close contacts.

“The 7,000 ministry trained GPs are well distributed nationwide and close to communities.”

GPs should also be roped in to conduct Covid-19 screening to assist the government in observing the prevalence of infections in the community, he added.

It was reported that in Selangor alone, some 6,000 close contacts could not be traced due to this new move.