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What could our future look like with novel coronavirus COVID-19?

‘You could surmise that (COVID-19) would be back every year,’ infectious diseases doctor says

A discarded medical mask sits on the ground.
A discarded medical mask sits on the ground. (2020 Getty Images)

We’re learning more about COVID-19 pandemic every day, but with some answers, even more questions arise.

In speaking with Dr. Joel Fishbain, an infectious disease specialist and the director of infection prevention at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, we learned that it could be some time before we have definitive answers to some aspects of the virus.

When asked if COVID-19 could return every year to wreak havoc on people, just like influenza has done, Fishbain said we may not know for years.

Each year, there are four to six coronaviruses that can cause us to catch a cold, and, according to Fishbain, 15% to 35% of cases of the common cold are considered coronaviruses.

"We have multiple colds throughout the year,” he said. “If those are coronaviruses, you could surmise that (COVID-19) would be back every year.”

Fishbain said COVID-19 will probably disappear at some point this year, with the maneuvers happening now and with warmer weather approaching.

He said there is a chance that we could see COVID-19 act like MERS or SARS, both of which have not returned.

“If we are able to get rid of (COVID-19) completely, maybe it will disappear the way SARS disappeared,” Fishbain said. “It (too) had different issues with the way it affected humans.”

But will COVID-19 return?

“I have no way of knowing,” he said. “The bottom line is, we won’t know for years.”

What if it becomes a coronavirus that circulates again and again? Could we build an immunity to it?

Fishbain said if COVID-19 acts like its cousins, it appears the immunity is short-lived. For example, if we could build an immunity to the coronaviruses that cause a cold, we wouldn’t get re-infected. But we do.

“It’s clear that, even though we may develop an immune response, we still see influenza, so if this is like other coronaviruses, I don’t think there is much natural immunity,” he said. “If we leave everything open, it would give (COVID-19) an opportunity to stay out there and we would see another outbreak."

Fishbain said the good news is, as our testing becomes better, it’s highly likely that we will just have to add this virus to our panels as a regular testing basis.

And the next step? Create a vaccine.

“Why do we give kids the flu vaccine when most of them don’t have a major issue? It’s who they bring it home to,” Fishbain said. “By vaccinating people, we put fewer at risk.”

What it comes down to is that time will tell, and what’s happening now is critical.

“The whole purpose of what we’re doing right now is, if we are lucky enough to completely get rid of it, maybe it will be a nonissue," Fishbain said.


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