Most people recover from Covid-19. Here’s why it’s hard to determine exactly how much


(CNN) – This is a question that many want to answer: How many people are recovering from Covid-19 exactly?

Most people with Covid-19 have a mild illness and can recover at home without medical care, while severe cases often receive supportive care in hospital, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention United.

Although there are regional, national and global data on confirmed cases and deaths, few data have been reported on recovery.

Johns Hopkins University, one of the few institutions to track recovered cases, has done so since its collection of Covid-19 cases was first made public in an online dashboard in January, Douglas Donovan, spokesperson for the University of Baltimore. said Friday in an email.

“The category of recoveries started when the epidemic centered on China, which published official reports on recoveries,” Donovan said in the email.

Then, as the epidemic spread around the world, the researchers realized that there were few methods of reporting recoveries, so they decided to limit the reports to country estimates only.

“The cases recovered outside of China are country-wide estimates based on local media reports and may be considerably lower than the actual number,” said Donovan.

As for cases in the United States, “the dashboard does not report estimates for state and county recoveries in the United States. This could change as more uniform reporting on collections expands between local and state governments, “he said. “Currently, there is no consistent method for reporting collections in the United States. If this changes, the dashboard will reflect these numbers accordingly. “

More than 223,000 people recovered from Covid-19 on Saturday, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University dashboard. The actual figure is probably higher because the data only cover confirmed cases.

Why tracking recovered cases is important

Knowing the number of cases recovered could help provide an accurate measure of the total number of people infected, said Dr. Bala Hota, professor of infectious diseases and associate physician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

“Knowing the actual number of people infected in the population would be very useful to have better models of when the disease will peak and decline, and also when we can start to send people back to work,” said Hota.

The recovery data could also indicate the ease with which people can develop immunity against the virus.

“Previously infected people may be excluded as susceptible individuals in the modeling, which would have an impact on predicting the number of cases that will occur in the near future,” said Hota. “On an individual level, if people can know if they have been asymptomatically or mildly infected and cured, they can know that they are immune and can return to work safely once the home shelter is removed. “

There is no evidence to date that people recovering from Covid-19 can be re-infected with the new coronavirus – although there is not much data in general, said Hota. He added that identifying those who are recovering may help indicate those who have built immunity, at least in the short term.

“It’s a bit of an under-studied group,” said Hota of the recovered Covid-19 patients. ” To be able to [identify recovered patients]… And to say that you have been exposed, that you have recovered, and we think you are immune, I think it will be very powerful. “

“Recovery … can take a while”

Currently, there is no treatment for Covid-19 approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, but infected people can recover with appropriate care to relieve and treat the symptoms.

The CDC noted that for those with Covid-19 isolated at home, they are considered recovered if they meet three criteria:

  1. No fever for at least 72 hours without using anti-fever medication
  2. Improvement of other symptoms related to coronaviruses, such as cough or shortness of breath
  3. A period of at least seven days has elapsed since the onset of the first symptoms

If they have access to the tests, the criteria include two consecutive negative tests spaced 24 hours apart, without fever and with improvement in symptoms.

Recovery does not mean that a patient immediately regains good health. Hota said that many of his patients feel tired and still have a persistent cough even if they meet the criteria for recovery.

“Recovery … can take a while,” said Hota.

It can take several weeks to fully recover from a disease caused by the new coronavirus, said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, during a briefing in Geneva at the start March.

“It takes up to six weeks to recover from this disease,” said Ryan. “People with very serious illnesses can take months to recover from the illness.”

Ryan added that recovery is often measured when the patient has no more symptoms and has had two consecutive negative tests for the virus at least one day apart – but some countries may measure “recovery” differently.

Also, confirmation of recovery may differ from confirmation that someone is still carrying the virus – and this is where confusion can arise.

How long can the virus persist in the body?

Estimates vary as to how long the new coronavirus can persist in the body.

An article published in the medical journal JAMA in February traced the recovery of four health professionals in Wuhan, China, who had confirmed they had Covid-19. One was hospitalized and the other three were quarantined, but they were all treated at Zhongnan Hospital at Wuhan University in January and February.

The document revealed that traces of the new coronavirus could still be detected in the four patients up to 13 days after the end of their symptoms and that they met the criteria for discharge from the hospital or quarantine.

“More studies are expected to follow patients who are not health care professionals and who have a more serious infection after discharge from the hospital or quarantine,” the researchers wrote in the document.

A separate study, published in the medical journal The Lancet in March, found that the virus could be detected for up to 37 days in patients recovering from Covid-19.

The study included data on 191 Covid-19 patients in Wuhan who either left the hospital or died in late January.

The data showed that among survivors, the median time to detection of the virus was 20 days from the onset of their illness. The researchers found that the shortest observed duration of viral shedding in the survivors was eight days and the longest was 37 days.

Among those who died, the researchers found that “the virus is continuously detectable until death.” The researchers wrote in the study, “Sustained viral detection in throat samples has been observed in survivors and non-survivors. “

Overall, Hota of Rush University Medical Center, who did not participate in either of the two studies, cautioned that someone who tests positive for the virus is also contagious.

The CDC notes that Covid-19 is believed to be spread primarily through close contact between people in respiratory droplets, such as droplets from coughing or sneezing. While infected people often show symptoms of illness, the CDC warns that some symptomless people may also be able to spread the virus.

Specifically, the test “doesn’t give you any information whether this virus is what we call viable or can live and can cause subsequent infections,” said Hota. “So the tests can detect the genetic material, but that doesn’t mean that someone is necessarily always infectious. “

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