A top doctor from Italy has recently come out and said that COVID-19 is becoming less lethal. He has made these claims in the wake of Italy having the third highest death toll at 33,415, and the sixth highest total number of cases at 233,019.
Top doctor claims that COVID-19 “clinically no longer exists in Italy”
Alberto Zangrillo, head of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, claims that the viral load of patients with COVID-19 is in decline. In medical terms, the lower the viral load in a patient, the less virulent and lethal the virus is.
In a statement on RAI television, Zangrillo shares, “The swabs that were performed over the last 10 days showed a viral load in quantitative terms that was absolutely infinitesimal compared to the ones carried out a month or two months ago.” He also said that “In reality, the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy.”
Zangrillo added that health experts were too worried about the possibility of a second wave of infections and that “We’ve got to get back to being a normal country.”
The WHO and other medical experts beg to differ
Despite Zangrillo’s claims, the Italian government urged people to be careful and that it is still too early to claim victory.
According to Sandra Zampa, undersecretary of Italy’s health ministry, “Pending scientific evidence to support the thesis that the virus has disappeared … I would invite those who say they are sure of it not to confuse Italians.” She adds, “We should instead invite Italians to maintain the maximum caution, maintain physical distancing, avoid large groups, to frequently wash their hands and to wear masks.”
Medical experts say there is no scientific evidence to support his claims
In response to Zangrillo’s statement, the WHO says that there is no evidence that shows COVID-19 has lost potency. According to WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove, transmissibility and severity of the virus has not changed.
The WHO still encourages governments to be cautious when dealing with coronavirus. “We need to be exceptionally careful that we are not creating a sense that all of a sudden the virus has decided to be less pathogenic. That is not the case at all,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program.
Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is also skeptical of these claims. He said that no major study on COVID-19 has found evidence that the virus has changed in severity.
He shares, “Currently there is a world-wide effort to establish if the genetic makeup of SARS-CoV-2 is changing, allowing us to determine if there is any underlying cause of any change in COVID-19 disease.
With data from more than 35,000 whole virus genomes, there is currently no evidence that there is any significant difference relating to severity. While this may change in the future, for now it seems likely that there are other reasons why the observed cases look different.”
Dr Oscar MacLean, of the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, shares the same sentiment. He says, “The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 mutations are extremely rare, and so whilst some infections may be attenuated by certain mutations, they are highly unlikely to be common enough to alter the nature of the virus at a national or global level.”
What is viral load, and how does it affect the severity of a virus?
In his claims, Dr. Zangrillo talked about a low viral load as proof that the virus is weakening. But what exactly does that mean?
To put it simply, viral load is the amount of virus in a person’s body. A high viral load means more severe symptoms, and higher risk of infecting other people. Inversely, if this number is low, the infected person shows milder symptoms and a lower risk of infecting others.
In the case of coronavirus, people who have had more severe symptoms have a higher viral load. Those with milder symptoms and asymptomatic show lower numbers. Despite this, COVID-19 is still highly infectious, and people need to still be cautious when dealing with the virus.
It is very likely that the people who were tested in Italy had milder symptoms. That could explain the low viral load compared to other people. This is why more studies need to be conducted before making claims that COVID-19 is starting to become less severe.
Statements like that could create a false sense of security in people, which could lead them to not being careful. Governments also should not downplay the risk of COVID-19. They need to encourage people to practice social distancing, hand washing, and other means of avoiding infection.
Everyone still needs to be cautious when it comes to COVID-19
As of the moment, around 6.3 million people have been infected with coronavirus. The death toll is at 377, 607, and 2,909,749 have recovered.
In the Philippines, there are over 18,000 confirmed cases, over 960 deaths, and more than 3,900 recoveries. And based on the current trend, it is possible that the numbers could increase over the following days.
One worrying thing is that because of the looser quarantine protocols in place, more people might get infected.
So it is important for everyone to practice the prevention methods for COVID-19. The lower the number of people infected with the virus, the lower the chances of another outbreak, and less lives will be put at risk.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.