Italian Study Shows Lower ‘Viral Load,’ Milder Symptoms In COVID-19 Patients

Italian Study Shows Lower ‘Viral Load,’ Milder Symptoms In COVID-19 Patients

COVID-19 patients who were tested for the a virus at an Italian hospital in May had fewer virus particles than those tested a month before, a small study released last week found.

The researchers said the lower “viral load” could mean that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is getting weaker. But the researchers also noted that it is unclear what is causing the lower viral load.

“The researchers analysed 200 nasopharyngeal swabs taken at the San Raffaele hospital,” The Daily Mail reported. “Half were from patients treated in April – at the pandemic’s peak – and half were from patients treated in May.”

Based on the results, the researchers calculated that patients’ viral loads were higher in April. Patients swabbed in April also had more severe symptoms and were more likely to need hospitalization and intensive care, they found.

Viral loads were similar in men and women, but were higher in patients aged 60 and over, and in those with severe COVID-19. Clementi’s team said that while it was theoretically possible that the new coronavirus had mutated, they did not have molecular data to prove it.

Theirs is not the only hospital to see falling viral loads.  Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania have noted anecdotally that their patients don’t seem as sick, and that COVID-19 tests show lower viral loads.

The most optimistic – and unproven – scenario is that, perhaps, the virus has mutated in such a way that it is less contagious than in the past several months. All viruses mutate, and usually the surviving viruses have mutated in ways that help them to make copies of themselves and spread more rapidly.

The new study follows another in which researchers found that the coronavirus that swept the world was losing its “potency,” according to a top Italian doctor.

“In reality, the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy,” Alberto Zangrillo, the head of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, said last month, according to Reuters. “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 told RAI television.

COVID-19 cases peaked in mid-April and while numbers continue to stay high, most experts attribute that to the surge in testing. “Italy, specifically, now averages fewer than 100 COVID-19 deaths per day after becoming the global epicenter just two months ago,” Reuters reported.

 

 

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