If you were admitted to the ICU at San Raffaele with COVID-19 in the first half of March, you had a one in four chance of dying. If you were admitted in the first half of May, you had a one in 50 chance. Something has changed. But is that something related to the virus itself or to better care by the hospital as doctors came to recognize which treatments worked and which didn’t? The authors mention that as one possible explanation along with several others, ranging from the social distancing effect of the lockdowns to the fact that that distancing also limited co-infections by the flu to even the possibility that lower air pollution due to the reduced traffic has improved patients’ health. The flu theory is especially interesting: What if COVID is especially lethal in colder weather because it weakens the body and makes it susceptible to failure from ordinary everyday flu that we’d otherwise shake off? That’s a possibility worth exploring further.
Whatever the explanation, we’re now a month on from the claim that the virus “no longer exists clinically” in Italy. And that claim is looking stronger than we might have guessed a month ago:
There’s no hard evidence I’m aware of that the virus has mutated into something less lethal, although there is evidence that it’s mutated into something more contagious. I flagged this WaPo story yesterday in posing a question: Is it possible that the new, more infectious strain of SARS-CoV-2 that doctors think is taking over the world might also be less deadly than the original version? Americans are watching in horror as the case counts here climb each day, only to be left scratching their heads at the fact that deaths aren’t similarly rising. A more infectious yet less deadly strain of the disease would explain that.
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