“We will defeat the coronavirus not when the population is universally vaccinated, but when people learn to live with the pandemic.
There will always be those who will refuse to vaccinate, so it is important to continue investing in treatment and hospitals", says the Italian professor of infectious diseases Dr. Matteo Bassetti - director of the Infectious Diseases Clinic at the hospital " San Martino” in Genoa.
We offer you the most interesting and useful parts of the interview with Prof. Bassetti.
Prof. Bassetti, COVID-19 hit Italy very badly at the beginning of the pandemic. What's the situation today?
- We are handling the pandemic quite well. Yes, in March, April, even May, the situation was very complicated. Now I can say that the situation is under control. We still have many positive cases with COVID, but only a fraction of those infected end up in hospital, not many patients with serious illnesses.
How do you think the virus has changed since March?
- It is hard to say whether the virus has changed or we are changing. Perhaps, the viral load actually changed during the summer months and the number of infected decreased.
At the same time, however, our ability to treat coronavirus patients has increased. And this means that we are now more prepared, we know how and when and also how long to treat patients.
It is very important to start treatment as soon as possible by prescribing the right drugs. Now we no longer use 10 preparations, but only 2 - Remdesivir and Dexamethasone… Therefore, it is very difficult to say whether the disease develops differently because of the virus or because of us.
In my opinion, the result is important, and the final result is this: in March-April the mortality was about 50%, now it is about 0.4-0.5%. There are still quite a few cases of infection in our country, but far fewer patients die from the coronavirus.
The children started school some time ago and the fear of infection has increased among them as well. Do they have better immunity or are they more resistant to the virus?
- We know from the experience of Great Britain that children of different ages can suffer from the virus in different proportions.
When we compare children with young people, with those in middle or old age, yes, children are less infected. This is important because it shows that the virus probably has a weaker connection with children than with adults.
In general, the measures taken in schools matter a lot.
In Italy, for example, there is a very strict protocol regarding visiting schools - compulsory wearing of masks when children go to school or when using school transport, avoiding crowded places, less sports in schools, etc. n.
I believe that these tough measures allow us to keep the situation in schools under control. There are cases of infection, but they are few and do not cause a problem (NB. Schools in a large part of Italy at the time of publication of the interview are already closed).
Many controversies have flared up regarding the wearing of masks. Does wearing masks indoors lead to negative consequences?
- Wearing masks is only one of the measures that must be followed. If people wear masks but don't wash their hands, shake hands and hug when meeting relatives and friends, then the mask will also be less useful.
A mask is important, but equally important is keeping your distance, washing your hands, and of course isolating yourself at home if you have flu symptoms.
Prof. Dr. Matteo Bassetti
In some publications, research is indicated, according to which the virus affects part of the organs and the consequences of the disease remain even after treatment. What are your observations in this regard?
- Unfortunately, COVID-19 leaves some consequences. We don't know how long they will stay, but they are there. It is about consequences for the lungs, the central nervous system, dermatological problems, fatigue and chronic fatigue are also observed.
This is a serious illness that can have serious consequences. We are collecting information about everything that happened during these months and we have pneumonia patients who are still facing problems.
Do you think it is the right approach in countries in a critical situation to test as many people as possible? What other decisions can be made to resolve the crisis?
- It matters what resources and investments the country has to overcome this disease. I believe that if resources are limited, it is better to invest in hospitals, in drugs, in intensive care beds, and only test patients with symptoms.
There are already enough tests everywhere, but in my opinion, if you have to choose, it is preferable to invest in hospitals.
Which is more important to get first: a drug or a vaccine against this virus?
- Both are important. I don't think the coronavirus cases will drop much when the vaccine comes out. It is important to invest in both directions so that the number of active agents against COVID-19 prevails and we know how to treat it. Yes, it is important to invest in vaccinations, as this will help the virus spread less and more people with good immunity. But you can't choose which is more important. Both are important - the vaccine and the medicine.
When do you think a vaccine can be expected?
- There are several programs in the world and it is a kind of competition, but I hope that it is good to have a competition so that we can get a vaccine in a short time. Perhaps at the beginning of the year we will receive some doses, and in the summer of next year a more extensive vaccination will be possible.
To what extent is immunity developed in patients treated for COVID-19?
- We don't know how long this immunity will last. We hope it lasts 6 to 12 months, but we have to wait to know for sure, to see how many antibodies remain after vaccination or after illness.
What was the hardest thing for you since the start of the pandemic?
- For several months I worked from morning to night in this hospital, side by side with hundreds of people. I would come to work every morning and people would look me in the eye hoping to see a smile or a source of peace.
This was the most difficult for me because I didn't know how to treat this infection… We tried our best to help people and it was very difficult because we were struck by a completely unknown disease.
Were there times when you lost hope or became more optimistic about fighting the virus?
- Towards the end of March it was very scary because of the general pressure and the large number of patients. It was difficult to find beds for them - that was the most difficult period. Then, in May and June, I was happy when the number of infected decreased.
Now I can't say that I am completely happy as there are still cases of hospitalizations, but I am calm, the situation is now under control. I feel confident about treating these patients.
What lessons have governments and he alth systems around the world learned from this pandemic?
- Above all, let's support each other more. At the beginning of the pandemic, each country or region chose its own path.
We didn't make any concerted efforts back then. In my opinion, it is very important that we share knowledge about the virus with each other and try to build a common strategy together. Sometimes I feel like the sides are pitted against each other.
There are no infected in our country, there are in your country. I will close my border with you, I want to isolate myself” etc. In the event of a pandemic in the 21st century, it is important to build a common strategy.
I think this was a good lesson for all of us. And another important lesson - the development and creation of a medicine or a vaccine should be done rather with joint efforts, and not as it was done in the past.
When do you think we have overcome the virus crisis?
- In the coming years we will have to live with the virus because we still have other difficulties to overcome. When they release the vaccine, there will be people who will refuse to be vaccinated. That is why it is important that we continue to invest in treatment and hospitals.