COVID-19 evolving to be less deadly? Experts challenge Italian doctor’s claims

zangrillo
Credit: Alberto Zangrillo

Has the novel coronavirus in Italy changed in some significant way? That was the suggestion of a top doctor in northern Italy who reports that patients to his hospital have been showing up with lower levels of the virus in their upper respiratory tracts compared with those two months ago.

Alberto Zangrillo, head of San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, roiled the global public health community on [May 31] when he told RAI, the national TV station, that “the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy,” with patients showing minute amounts of virus in nasal swabs.

The consensus among other experts interviewed [June 1] is that the clinical findings in Italy likely do not reflect any change in the virus itself.

Related article:  We're better at fighting epidemics because of advances in genetic sequencing, synthetic biology and a willingness to collaborate

Zangrillo’s clinical observations are more likely a reflection of the fact that with the peak of the outbreak long past, there is less virus in circulation, and people may be less likely to be exposed to high doses of it. In addition, only severely sick people were likely to be tested early on, compared with the situation now when even those with mild symptoms are more likely to get swabbed, experts said.

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