Could the Coronavirus Be Weakening as It Spreads?
Comments from two Italian doctors have triggered a wave of expert rebukes, but not everyone thinks that their views are far-fetched
On May 31, the news agency Reuters published an article with an optimistic but incendiary headline: “New coronavirus losing potency, top Italian doctor says.”
The story included comments from hospital leaders in Milan and Genoa, cities in two regions of northern Italy that have been hit hard by Covid-19. The doctors’ comments were pulled from published news reports in the Italian media, and both suggested that the virus is growing weaker. Matteo Bassetti, MD, PhD, is head of the Infectious Diseases Clinic at the San Martino-IST University Hospital and a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Genoa. He is quoted in the Reuters piece as saying that, “The strength the virus had two months ago is not the same strength it has today.”
Reached for comment on Tuesday, Bassetti elaborated on his prior statement for Elemental. “What is happening in our hospitals — at least in the northern part of Italy — the clinical impression is that the disease is now different compared to the disease of three months ago,” he says. “The majority of patients who presented in our emergency rooms or wards during March and April were very sick with acute respiratory distress syndrome, shock, multiple organ failure, and the majority died in the first days after admission. Now in May, we no longer see these types of patients.”
Bassetti completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University. He’s quick to say that he is not basing his views on lab-confirmed findings; his statements are based on his own interactions with patients and his conversations with other doctors. “The clinical impression here is that the virus is different,” he says. “Is this because the virus lost some viral potency? Or because the viral load or total count of the virus is lower? I don’t know.”
Expert speculation that the virus could be weakening is unpopular — and maybe also dangerous. The Reuters piece was republished in the New York Times and elsewhere, and it triggered an immediate wave of backlash. Health officials within Italy and at the World Health…