An infectious disease doctor from Italy claims that COVID-19 appears to be weakening due to genetic mutations, which could cause the virus to gradually disappear by itself without a vaccine. Another doctor, however, warns that this process could take many years.
Head of the infectious diseases clinic at the San Martino hospital, Dr. Matteo Bassetti told the Sunday Telegraph that his clinical observations suggest that the potency of the virus is lessening in severity.
“In March and early April the patterns were completely different. People were coming to the emergency department with a very difficult to manage illness and they needed oxygen and ventilation, some developed pneumonia,” he told the outlet.
Within the past month, Bassetti says the pattern has changed, and patients are not experiencing as severe symptoms.
“It was like an aggressive tiger in March and April but now it’s like a wild cat. Even elderly patients, aged 80 or 90, are now sitting up in bed and they are breathing without help. The same patients would have died in two or three days before.”
Bassetti believes this change could be because the virus is mutating. This mutation could be brought on due to the lower viral load many are experiencing now that countries have gone on lockdown, instilled social distancing measures and many have enforced the wearing of face masks in public.
In May, it was reported that scientists identified 198 genetic mutations to the SARS-CoV-2 strain that causes COVID-19. Professor Francois Balloux from University Collge London (UCL) says that all viruses naturally mutate, but they cannot tell yet whether these mutations make COVID-19 more or less dangerous or have a neutral impact. Most virus mutations, however, are not dangerous, and experts warn against the public to take them as bad signs.
May health professionals suspect that the change in the behaviour of the virus is caused by a number of factors beyond a possible weakening, such as an increase in testing and the implementation of social distancing measures.
Bassetti posits that the virus could die off on its own as fewer people become infected. If this were to occur, it would be similar to the SARS outbreak of 2003 which was contained about 8 months after its initial spread, without the need for a vaccine. Scientists are still unsure how this happened, according to Healthline.
Dr. Bharat Pankhania, a professor at the UK’s University of Exeter Medical School argues that this process of eradication would take many years to complete. He warns, however, that this is unlikely to happen.
“It will if it has no one to infect. If we have a successful vaccine, then we’ll be able to do what we did with smallpox. But because it’s so infectious and widespread, it won’t go away for a very long time.”