Ask A Doctor: When Can We Return To ‘Normal’ Now That COVID-19 Cases Are Rising In Texas?

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

By Michael MarksJune 26, 2020 7:02 am,

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

Do you always develop antibodies after a COVID-19 infection? And can those antibodies be used to create a vaccine?

People with healthy immune systems develop antibodies to the disease. Some of those antibodies are “neutralizing” ones, which means they attack the coronavirus, and they theoretically could be used in vaccine development. But not all antibodies are neutralizing.

Are so-called viral loads different in asymptomatic versus symptomatic people with COVID-19? And does that even matter when it comes to treatment?

Knowing a person’s “viral load” – the amount of a virus in someone’s blood – is essential for treating and monitoring people with HIV or hepatitis C, for example. But since COVID-19 is not a chronic illness, as far as we know, viral load might not matter as much.

“COVID-19, being a more acute situation, wouldn’t necessarily be aided by knowing things like viral loads,” Campbell said.

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spike in Texas, and as Gov. Greg Abbott responds with more restrictions on businesses, what can we expect for public life in the near future?

The new coronavirus is “highly virulent and highly infectious,” Campbell said. That means it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to get back to normal life until there’s vaccine.

“I would like to be more optimistic about making more strides toward a normal economy, but I can’t see that that’s a short-term possibility.”

Speaking of vaccines, how long until one is available?

Experts at the National Institutes of Health say an approved vaccine could be available by early 2021. But we won’t see the benefits until large numbers of people are vaccinated. Nor will we know exactly how effective it is until it’s used on a large scale. Still, Campbell says expecting a vaccine by early next year is realistic.

“The idea of being able to expect an effective vaccine at the first of the year makes a whole lot of sense,” he said.

Web story by Caroline Covington.

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