Cutting COVID-19 infectious period even by one day could prevent millions of cases

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A vaccine or medication that could shorten the infectious period of COVID-19 in patients, even by one day, may potentially prevent millions of cases and save billions of dollars, according to a new modelling study.

The research, published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, noted that some vaccines and drugs may have subtler effects by which even if they cannot prevent or cure COVID-19, they may still reduce how long an infected person is contagious.

In the study, scientists including those from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health in the US, assessed the potential value of shortening the infectious period in COVID-19 patients.

The researchers created a computational model that simulates the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 and used it to explore how a vaccine or medication that can reduce the contagious period might alleviate the clinical and economic impact of the disease.

According to the study, reducing the contagious period by half a day could avert up to 1.4 million cases and over 99,000 hospitalisations even if only a quarter of people with symptoms were treated.

Cutting the contagious period by 3.5 days, they said, could avert up to 7.4 million cases, and expanding such treatment to 75 per cent of everyone infected could avert 29.7 million cases and save USD 856 billion, the study noted.

The researchers believe the findings could help guide research and investments into development of vaccines or medications that reduce the infectious period of SARS-CoV-2.

“There may be a tendency to overlook vaccines and other treatments that don’t prevent a COVID-19 infection or cure disease,” said study co-author Bruce Lee from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health.

“But this study showed that even relatively small changes in how long people are contagious can significantly affect the transmission and spread of the virus and thus save billions of dollars and avert millions of new cases,” Lee said.

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