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Italian disease specialist downgrades coronavirus from ‘tiger to wild cat’

An Italian infectious disease specialist said coronavirus was losing its strength and may die out before a vaccine is developed, but fellow epidemiologists disagree.
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New York Daily News

Jun 21, 2020 4:14 PM

People take part in the Vogada della Rinascita (Rowing of Rebirth) regatta, along Venice canals, Italy, Sunday, June 21, 2020.

People take part in the Vogada della Rinascita (Rowing of Rebirth) regatta, along Venice canals, Italy, Sunday, June 21, 2020. (Anteo Marinoni/LaPresse LaPresse/Anteo Marinoni/AP)

An Italian infectious disease specialist said coronavirus was losing its strength and may die out before a vaccine is developed, but fellow epidemiologists disagree.

Professor Matteo Bassetti, the chief of infectious diseases at San Martino General Hospital in Genoa, Italy, said the virus had changed since earlier in the spring and become much less virulent, with more patients in Italy recovering from severe symptoms.

“It was like an aggressive tiger in March and April but now it’s like a wild cat,” Bassetti told The Telegraph. “Even elderly patients, aged 80 or 90, are now sitting up in bed and they are breathing without help. The same patients would have died in two or three days before.”

Coronavirus caused at least 34,000 deaths in Italy and over 235,000 infections.

Bassetti said a number of factors could be behind the virus appearing to slow down and become less lethal, including people following social distancing guidelines and participating in lockdowns, becoming exposed to smaller viral loads in the instances where they are infected.

“The clinical impression I have is that the virus is changing in severity,” Bassetti said.

However, fellow disease specialists have warned Bassetti’s statements are unfounded and the virus remains a significant danger and will not disappear completely until a vaccine is available.

“He is wrong. There is no evidence that the virus is losing potency anywhere,” Columbia University researcher Dr. Angela Rasmussen said in May when Bassetti made similar comments. “There is less transmission, which means fewer hospitalized patients and fewer deaths. That doesn’t mean less virulence.”

Cases of coronavirus have risen or spiked in multiple U.S. states in June.

“I don’t expect it to die out that quickly,” said Dr. Bharat Pankhania, a professor at the UK’s University of Exeter Medical School, told The Telegraph.

“It will if it has no one to infect. If we have a successful vaccine then we’ll be able to do what we did with smallpox. But because it’s so infectious and widespread, it won’t go away for a very long time.”


David Matthews is a digital staff writer for the New York Daily News.

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