While millions of people worldwide are battling against COVID-19, fortunately, the vast majority of patients who get infected will overcome the disease and survive. Many studies show that antibodies are present in the blood of a recovered person. These antibodies may play an essential role in treating others who are seriously ill with COVID-19.
With time, survivors may be requested to help. However, much remains unknown about the recovery process and when it is totally safe to exit isolation.
To learn more, CBS 46, an American news station based in Atlanta, GA, reported an interview with Prof. Eyal Leshem, Director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center. Ranked in the Top 10 Hospitals Worldwide by Newsweek, Sheba is recognized as a leading force in global medical research, and they are on the frontline of the fight against the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sheba, as Israel’s largest hospital, has been the first in the country to treat COVID-19 patients at a dedicated isolation unit,” Prof. Leshem said.
In addition to providing advanced treatment for patients, Sheba has also been dedicated to finding the best ways to reduce the risk for physicians and all healthcare providers. Various technologies, such as telemedicine and remote monitoring of patients, are being used in isolation wards at the hospital.
According to Prof. Leshem, the growing population of people who have completed their recovery from COVID-19 must be re-tested in order to confirm that they are truly virus-free.
“At Sheba, we follow Israel Ministry of Health recommendations to wait at least 14 days after a positive test and symptom resolution, then re-test patients twice and confirm there is no virus secretion from the respiratory system prior to discontinuing isolation,” said Leshem.
While the system of re-testing has been embraced in Israel, it is not always possible to implement widely in other countries. For example, in the United States, many people are unable to receive even the initial test for COVID-19, not to mention receiving additional tests afterwards.
Alternatively, the CDC, an Atlanta based center, advises patients to end isolation when a minimum of 3 days (72 hours) has passed since recovery. How do they define recovery? It is when 1) fever is resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications, 2) there is an improvement in respiratory symptoms, and 3) at least 7 days have passed since the first appearance of symptoms. Similarly, testing is not recommended in the United Kingdom for people who only experience a mild fever or cough, and patients are told to remain in isolation for 7 days after the onset of symptoms.
However, Leshem cites the results of research at Sheba that indicates “most people secrete the virus for 2-3 weeks,” which suggests that recovery from COVID-19 may still pose a risk for much longer.
In China, medical professionals are also practicing a “better safe than sorry” approach and extending the home quarantine for 14 days after obtaining a negative test result. As Dr. Lixin Xie, at the Chinese PLA General Hospital, says, ““If you had mild respiratory symptoms from COVID-19 and were staying at home so as not to infect people, extend your quarantine for another two weeks after recovery to ensure that you don’t infect other people.”
Given that guidelines differ around the world, how should recovered patients behave? Prof. Leshem responds, “Public health authorities can decide on different recommendations based on similar data. The level of individual patient risk or anticipated benefit is always weighed against community harm from more conservative patient isolation and social distancing approaches.”
As for the survivors’ long-term immunity against coronavirus, Leshem explains that the early data is encouraging. “Epidemiologic evidence is still lacking, but in-vitro (laboratory) information shows that antibodies from recovered patients neutralize the virus,” he says and adds, “…. more studies are much anticipated.”