Ask A Doctor: Is Testing Reliable Enough To Reopen The State, And Other Questions Answered

A UT Health San Antonio physician answers listeners’ questions about their health during the coronavirus pandemic.

By Michael MarksApril 23, 2020 7:17 am,

In this week’s installment of Ask a Doctor, UT Health San Antonio physician Fred Campbell answers Texas Standard listeners’ most pressing questions about the coronavirus.

In light of reports from South Korea, how common is it for someone to recover from COVID-19 and then become reinfected with the coronavirus – and does that have any implication for vaccine development?

It is possible to become reinfected with the coronavirus after recovering from COVID-19. As for vaccines, antibodies the immune system produces after a vaccination could potentially protect against reinfection. But since COVID-19 vaccines are still in development, Campbell says it’s unclear how much antibody is needed for a protective effect. Existing vaccines for other diseases often keep people immune for months or even years, but it’s too soon to tell in this case.

Teens might face less risk for COVID-19 because of their age, but what about those with virus-induced asthma?

Asthma is a serious condition, and anyone who experiences wheezing should seek medical care immediately – even young people. Young people with underlying health conditions have died from COVID-19, Campbell says.

The spread of viruses sometimes slows in summer because of the heat. Will that be the case this year with the coronavirus?

The influenza virus, for example, tends to spread more slowly in summer. But Campbell says that doesn’t seem to be the case with the new coronavirus; it is currently spreading in warm-weather countries. And when cold weather sets in again later this year, Campbell worries the regular flu season will compound existing problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

How reliable are current COVID-19 tests? And how reliable must they be before it’s safe to reopen businesses and resume public life?

There are two types of tests: diagnostic tests specifically look for SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19. But they haven’t been wholly reliable; they’ve missed some positive cases. The other kind of test looks for COVID-19 antibodies; in other words, it determines whether someone has contracted the virus and their body has fought the disease. With testing still limited, Campbell says reopening the state is risky because many people who have the disease without symptoms will go undetected, and could pass the virus to others. What’s more, testing isn’t a silver bullet, he says; the best way to prevent the spread is still social distancing and hand-washing.

Web story by Caroline Covington.


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