WASHINGTON — Along with rising figures for those infected with and those who have died of the novel coronavirus, there’s a third category in question: How many have been cured? To answer that requires answering another question: What does it mean to be cured?
There are two kinds of “cured” in this context, said Bruce Ribner, a professor at the Emory University School of Medicine.
There’s being “clinically cured,” he said, when someone starts feeling better and stops showing symptoms like fever and coughing. Then there’s being “pathogen cured,” when doctors determine that the virus is indeed no longer in the body and therefore the patient can’t transmit the disease.
The former is clear to a patient. The latter, “we don’t yet have a good handle on what it takes,” said Ribner.
Scientists are busy trying to find out as much as they can about the coronavirus, including how long the transmission period lasts. As part of that process, they’ll also learn more about how to define “cured” in both senses.
“It’s an area of active investigation,” said Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health in Massachusetts.
There still remains no antiviral available to treat the novel coronavirus. But Ellerin said that, as with the influenza, “most patients are cured of this on their own” just by their immune system fighting back against the invading virus. For others, especially older people and those with pre-existing illness, the novel coronavirus infection can be far more severe and deadly.
On Tuesday, a hospital in Everett, Wash., discharged the first diagnosed coronavirus patient in the United States. The 35-year-old Washington state man, however, will continue to recover at his Snohomish County home and remain in isolation and monitored by medical officials.
Lauren Sauer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at John Hopkins University, said that people with the virus should expect long hospital stays.
“We don’t have a definition of what cured is,” she said. “We don’t really have a good understanding of what [definition] people are using globally.”
In Hubei province, Sauer said, someone is considered cured when they haven’t had a fever for three days and have tested negative twice on a PCR test, which looks for the virus in the body.
“We don’t have a good understanding of how long people remain contagious, so they are being overly cautious,” she said.