Oct 9, 2020 at 1:25 pm EST
Studies show that the viral loads in Covid-19 patients have decreased dramatically over time. Does this affect death rates?
by Ariana Eunjung Cha and Delegate Morris and Michael Birnbaum
Death rates from the new Corona virus are lower in hot spots around the world, even as new infections accelerate in what may be the next wave of the pandemic. Scientists are confident that change is real, but its causes – and whether it will continue – is a matter of intense debate.
Public health officials cite multiple reasons for the low death rates: They note a shift in the demographics of those who have contracted the virus, with young people making up the bulk of new infections. The most common tests are to capture a more diverse group of people and diseases. Improved treatment strategies that include antivirals and steroids are saving more lives, but some researchers believe there may be more to the story.
One idea that has sparked much debate recently, backed by two back-to-back studies – one by Saeed Al-Zein of the Detroit Medical Center, the other from Italy, was presented in late September to the European Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. Illnesses – is that social distancing and masks reduce the dose of virus that people receive, resulting in less severe illness.
While El-Zein and other Detroit doctors were investigating why their patients appeared less sick, they were surprised to discover that one indicator in particular had changed dramatically over time: the viral load.
Of the 708 patients treated by early summer, the average viral load – a measure of virus particles in the body as measured by nasal swabs – has decreased on a roughly weekly basis. In most infectious diseases, including Ebola, HIV / AIDS, and hepatitis, the higher the pregnancy, the worse the outcome.
Al-Zein saw a glimmer of hope in the results: Can the steps taken to mitigate the effects of the Corona virus be successful?
This view is shared by Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. If the initial viral dose – known as “the vaccine” – is lower, according to her theory, then people’s bodies will be able to fight back more effectively.
This “probably indicates an ability to better control viral infection, and thus to have a less severe disease,” Gandhi said.