There are certain questions concerning the current pandemic that I am often asked:
- How accurate are the current tests for the coronavirus 2? The testing can be divided into two types. Testing for the virus or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and serological testing for the presence of antibodies. The former indicates the presence of the virus and would represent active infection. The latter is an indicator of the body’s response to an infection by the virus and would help document prior infection. There have been reported problems with the PCR testing as far as a large percentage of false negative testing. Newer faster and more sensitive tests are being rapidly developed and will reach hospitals and doctors as soon as they are FDA approved.
- Is there a risk of reinfection? There have been many reports of patients developing COVID-19 again soon after being discharged from the hospital. This most likely does not represent a second and new infection, but instead is a premature diagnosis of resolution of the original infection. This can happen with some of the PCR tests with the high false negative rates as discussed above.
- How long will I be immune after being infected? Since this is a new and novel virus that first appeared in China a little more than 4 months ago, one cannot say for certain what to expect long-term. If, however, we can extrapolate from the experience with other similar viral infections that the antibody protection should be maintained for several years. This assumes, however, that the virus does not evolve or mutate as is seen with the flu virus for example.
- What is the value of wearing a mask? Certain countries required that all citizens wear a mask at all times while outside. In the United States, there was an initial resistance to this for several reasons. A shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) necessitated triaging the supply of masks to the frontline health care providers (doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, technicians, environmental services, etc.). Data from countries that did mandate everyone where a mask is documenting that such behavior does help “flatten the curve”. The CDC is now recommending that everyone wear a mask in public. Wearing the mask helps by reducing the risk of an infected patient spreading the disease. At the present time, N95 masks which are in extreme shortage should, however, be limited to those caring for COVID-19 patients.