As cases of the novel coronavirus skyrocket at an exponential rate around the world, Dr Dan Yamin, head of the Laboratory for Epidemic Modeling and Analysis in Tel Aviv University’s engineering faculty, says that it may not be quite as bad as it all seems.
His first instance of modeling a major epidemiological crisis came during the Ebola outbreak. At the time, he was completing postdoctoral research at Yale University, where he and his team managed to successfully identify the benefit of isolating those with the most acute symptoms of the disease, and also the heaviest viral load. These findings ultimately went on to inform the Liberian government how to respond to the crisis, and thus curb the epidemic.
Now applying his experience to the current novel coronavirus outbreak, he said, “We do not move about in space like particles...Try to remember what you did yesterday. Even without all the social distancing measures, you probably would have met the same people you met today. We move across networks of social contact. So, from a certain stage, it will be difficult to infect even those who bear a potential for becoming infected, because the carriers don’t wander around looking for new people to infect.”
He went on to say that, as we know that the average number of people a person with the novel coronavirus will infect is 2 (Ro= 2), we can expect 50% of a non-immune population to become infected. As immunity starts to build however, the Ro value will eventually fall to 1 or less, meaning that the disease will be able to be contained. He said that this may mean that the virus may quickly recede- almost as quickly as it arose.
Although there is currently uncertainty as to how the virus may reinfect people after recovery, he claims that the risk is low. This comes as in case of reinfection, our immune systems will have already created the necessary antibodies to combat the disease meaning that even if any symptoms are experienced, they will likely be less acute the second time around.
It is worth noting however that the efficacy of antibodies however may vary depending on how quickly the virus is able to mutate- something that increases in speed the higher the number of infections there are. Although some have already suggested that the coronavirus has already mutated- into both a more and less threatening version, it is still unknown exactly how quickly it is able to change.
Given that some viruses such as influenza are able to mutate quickly- having mutated 17 times just last year for example, depending on how quickly the novel coronavirus is able to mutate, it is possible that maintaining immunity may nevertheless be a tall order until further research emerges.