Level of Exposure Could Affect COVID-19 Illness Severity

Researchers may have found that COVID-19 exposure level could have an impact on illness severity, which could be a positive break for people who’ve been taking the CDC-recommended measures. It may mean that for some of us, if we're already being careful but we do get exposed accidentally, it may be a mild case.

The Importance of Viral Load in COVID-19

Viral load is the volume of individual viruses infecting a person upon exposure. In theory, the higher the initial viral load, the heavier the attack on the body. So, for example, a sneeze straight into someone’s face might cause more severe illness in someone than if they’d breathed in traces of the virus from across the room — and the difference lies primarily in how many particles the person takes in.

An early study on COVID-19 severity didn’t find any connections to severity and viral load, but more recent research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has shown otherwise. The research team took strict measures to make sure different viral loads were correct, noting the difficulties other researchers have had in ensuring their test subjects each received different, precisely measured doses of the virus.

One More Reason to Wear a Mask

The BMJ article suggests that a person’s initial viral load can affect their chances of catching COVID-19, which of course we know, but it may well also make a difference in disease severity once a person does fall ill. Some researchers have set out to determine exactly how strong a role masks play in protecting people from severe disease — and this new understanding of viral load may be a key to that understanding.

Results published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine show mask-wearing can contribute to higher numbers of asymptomatic and mild infections. The researchers cite studies comparing the outcomes in two different cruise ships where outbreaks occurred. When passengers of the Diamond Princess were tested, about 20% of those who were positive were asymptomatic. Compare that to the 81% asymptomatic rate on a different ship, where everyone aboard was issued N95 masks as soon as the illness was identified. And the thinking now is, that this is probably due to the reduced viral load offered by the protective masks. 

So we at Wellness come back to the idea that masks protect everyone, the wearer and others, from this pandemic in more ways than we're probably even aware of — and a mild illness can save lives and help protect our medical system so let's all do our parts. 

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4/2/2021 7:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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