What Happens When the All-Clear Isn't All Clear? COVID-19 'Reactivations' in South Korea.




What Happens When the All-Clear Isn\
What Happens When the All-Clear Isn\'t All Clear? COVID-19 \'Reactivations\' in South Korea.  

The all-clear after a test for coronavirus infection does not mean all clear, it turns out. Nor can a person who had COVID-19 and then recovered be sure that it won't strike again. Such is the disturbing news coming out of South Korea, the country widely credited as the most successful-and transparent-overcoming the pandemic threat to its people and economy.

Trump's Korean Coronavirus Diplomacy Is a Disaster

At a briefing earlier this week, Jeong Eun-kyeong, director-general of the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that 51 people previously thought to have recovered completely tested positive again shortly after they got out of quarantine. Jeong said the virus may have been "reactivated" in some fashion since it was in the CDC's judgment too early after their recovery for them to have been reinfected.

"We are conducting a comprehensive study on this," Jeong said. "There have been many cases when a patient during treatment will test negative one day and positive another." But the CDC is "putting more weight on reactivation as the possible cause."

There is reason for concern, but not consternation, according to various analysts.

"The possibility of false negatives is very real," says Dr. Ogan Gurel, who came to Korea nine years ago armed with a medical degree from Columbia to teach and do research after having served at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"Think about how the test is done," he says. "You put a swab of cotton up deep in the nose and rotate it." Even if done right, the procedure "is not always guaranteed to pick up the virus." Moreover, "the storage, transport, etc. of the sample could create a negative result-many experts think this may be the problem."

Obviously the CDC will be looking at that issue very carefully as it conducts new, more elaborate tests of the "reactivated" patients.

At a minimum, the uncertainty has Koreans on edge, wondering if the country's highly touted efficiency in driving out the illness is really working so well. "It's so erratic, we should be extra careful," says Chang Sung-eun, an office worker staying at home during the pandemic. "Mistakes do not happen so often, but nobody knows."

Gurel cites estimates that "false negatives occur in just one percent of cases" but observes, "When you're testing hundreds of thousands of cases, you get some numbers."

Korean CDC figures show that as of April 9, South Korea, with a population of some 52 million people, had tested 494,711, of whom 10,423 were confirmed to have the disease, while 204 had died.

By comparison, as of this writing New York City alone, with a population of 8.5 million, has had more than 4,500 deaths.

Another aspect of the problem, says Gurel, is that "everybody's immune system is different."

If screw-ups in testing are the main reason why no one can be totally sure not to have come down with the bug, or to have recovered at least to the extent they're no longer contagious, other less obvious factors also come into play. Unfortunately, these may grow in importance over the years, even assuming scientists do come up with a vaccine.

The scariest scenario has to be mutation-a change in the nature of the virus. In other words, the strain that teams of scientists and doctors have created defenses against may mutate into a different variety that is just as deadly.

"There is indeed frequent mutation," says Gurel. "It is absolutely critical that we perform genome studies of both the virus and patients and correlate these genetic studies with clinical outcomes."

Such painstaking research would "help us understand exactly why some people get serious disease while in others it is fairly mild," he goes on. "Ascertaining which portions of the virus mutate and which are conserved will help in designing effective vaccines which would concentrate on the regions of the virus that generally do not mutate."

Then, says Gurel, there is the problem of "immune failure over time with an unsustained antibody response." People who've had measles or chickenpox, for instance, usually can rely on some level of immunity for the rest of their lives.

But that's not the case with all viruses, with the common cold a notable example. "We know that there is no vaccine and that it frequently recurs in people," he notes, and "about 15 percent of common cold cases are caused by a mild variety of coronavirus."

It's Probably Too Late to Use South Korea's Trick for Tracking Coronavirus

Like common cold viruses, he says, coronavirus "may create a less than robust immune response in some people." Bottom line: "There may be some concern of limited immune response being a possibility with this novel coronavirus."

Gurel dismisses, however, the theory that the coronavirus may be latent within a person's system, escaping detection until blossoming as a disease in the manner of HIV, herpes or hepatitis. COVID-19, he says, does not have "such latency."

In the search for cures, Gurel warns against accepting President Donald Trump's advice and trying hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug. Trump asked, "What have you got to lose?" says Gurel, repeating a Trump line. "There are serious side effects," including blindness in some cases.

Gurel offers some advice that Trump might want to take to heart: "We should be open to evaluating such therapies but still apply some level of rigor in order to avoid compounding the tragedy."

By way of comparison, Gurel notes that victims of the Spanish flu, the disease that killed 40 million worldwide in 1918-1919, took incredibly high doses of aspirin to drive down the fever. There are, he says, "theories that high levels of aspirin contributed to the outcome"-the high number of deaths.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!

Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

COMMENTS

More Related News

UN says both Koreas broke armistice in DMZ shooting
UN says both Koreas broke armistice in DMZ shooting
  • World
  • 2020-05-26 09:24:38Z

An exchange of gunfire between North and South Korean forces in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula was a violation of the armistice agreement, the United Nations Command (UNC) said Tuesday. The two sides remain technically at war, since fighting in the Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953 that was never replaced with a peace treaty. The UNC -- which monitors compliance with the ceasefire -- opened an investigation into the shooting and concluded that "both sides committed Armistice Agreement violations", it said in a statement.

UN probe: Both Koreas violate armistice in gunfire exchange
UN probe: Both Koreas violate armistice in gunfire exchange
  • World
  • 2020-05-26 09:21:19Z

A U.N. investigation into a recent exchange of gunfire between the two Koreas has determined that both countries violated the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, the American-led U.N. Command said Tuesday. The May 3 gunfire exchange was the first shooting inside the Korean Demilitarized Zone in about 2½ years. The DMZ, which was established as a buffer at the end of the Korean War, is a de facto border separating North and South Korea.

Asia Today: SKorea tracing cases before more students return
Asia Today: SKorea tracing cases before more students return

South Korea has reported 19 new cases of the coronavirus, most from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials have been actively tracing transmissions linked to nightclubs and other entertainment venues. Officials linked three of the new cases to international arrivals. The caseload has slowed from early March when it was reporting hundreds of new cases a day, but the new infections in the greater capital area has caused concern as authorities proceed with a phased reopening of schools, which began with high school seniors last week.

Ex-Pirates infielder Kang banned 1 year by Korean league
Ex-Pirates infielder Kang banned 1 year by Korean league

The Korean Baseball Organization has suspended ex-Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang for a year and ordered him to perform 300 hours of community service over a series drunk driving cases. The ban will delay his anticipated return to the Korean league. Yonhap said the 33-year-old Kang was in the United States and did not attend Monday's KBO disciplinary committee hearing, where he was represented by his lawyer, Kim Sun-woong.

Russia records its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus as its number of new cases appears to decline
Russia records its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus as its number of new cases appears to decline

Russia denies that it has manipulated coronavirus data and maintains that its mortality rate from the virus is among the lowest in the world.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Latin America