Coronavirus infections appear to have gotten milder over time — with decreased viral loads, less severe symptoms and fewer hospitalizations, according to a new study.
Researchers from Wayne State University examined 700 nose and throat samples from patients hospitalized at the Detroit Medical Center between April and June and found that the average amount of viral load decreased significantly.
During the first week of the study, nearly half the samples were found to have high viral loads, while only one fourth had low viral loads.
Participants who had high viral loads were more likely to develop more severe symptoms, with 14 percent of those patients dying.
But by the study’s fifth week, the majority of samples — 70 percent — were shown to have a low viral load, according to the report.
“As the pandemic progressed, there were fewer deaths, fewer hospitalizations, and the patients had lower amounts of virus at the time of admission,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Pranatharthi Chandrasekar, told Business Insider.
“[This] gives us hope that we can ‘live with this virus’ — with masks and social distancing — as we get to a vaccine.”
Chandrasekar added that the research may also be a sign that public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing have lowered the amount of the virus people have been exposed over the course of the pandemic.
“All those social measures we were taking and teaching may have something to do with the people coming in with lower and lower amounts of virus,” Chandrasekar said.
“As they get exposed to people while they’re wearing masks, they are probably getting exposed to a smaller quantity of the virus.”
Chandrasekar said people exposed to a lower dose of the virus likely don’t experience such an aggressive immune system response, resulting in milder symptoms and a lower chance of mortality.
In the past, studies have found little difference between the viral load and severity of symptoms — but this may be a breakthrough, another expert said.
“This is the first study to show this systematically,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who wasn’t affiliated with the study.
“A low viral load from swabs likely indicates an ability to control the viral infection better and, therefore, have less severe disease.”
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