With each new day, more questions emerge about the COVID-19 virus. Two experts separate fact from fiction

By Julie Mazziotta
March 25, 2020 08:00 AM

With each new day, more questions and rumors emerge about the COVID-19 virus. People want to know if there are different strains of the virus (yes, but that’s normal) and whether a person’s blood type can affect their symptoms (unlikely), but it’s tough to separate fact from fiction. Here, two experts weigh in on these pressing queries as the number of cases in the U.S. continues to rise.

Are there different strains of the COVID-19 virus?

Yes, “but that’s just a normal part of how viruses replicate and exist,” says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, MD, MPH, an infectious disease expert at UCLA Medical Center. “Any RNA virus [such as COVID-19] mutates on an ongoing, regular basis.”

And Klausner does not believe that with different strains of the virus, one would be more severe than the other. The severity of someone’s illness, he says, depends on the person.

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“It’s a possibility, but the answer is probably not,” he says. “The reason people get sick is from their individual, unique immunologic response. People with severe heart disease, if their body starts fighting the infection and their heart rate goes up, they can’t tolerate that very well. If people have severe lung disease and they have more fluid in their lungs, they can’t tolerate that change very well. So really it depends more, at least based on our current understanding, on the individual and their characteristics than the virus.”

The FDA is testing a malaria drug as a possible treatment — will it work?

It may, but we are still months away from that being a reality, says Klausner. The FDA needs to fully test the malaria drug, called chloroquine, in humans for about six months.

“There is laboratory-based research in cells and culture systems that malaria drugs do have some antiviral effects, but we really need to see what happens in humans,” he says. “We’ve been falsely optimistic for years, based on what experimental studies show in laboratories and even in animals, but we need to do human clinical trials first.”

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“I would not recommend people use malaria drugs until we have strong evidence in humans through placebo controlled clinical trials,” he emphasized.

There are also two more drugs that may work as a treatment for COVID-19 — Remdesivir, which was used to treat Ebola patients, and Actemra, which is typically used for arthritis.

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Are men getting infected at a higher rate than women?

Though some countries have said that they’ve seen slightly more cases in men than women, that has not been confirmed, says Dr. Robert Norton, a professor of public health at Auburn University.

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“I haven’t seen any data from either the CDC or WHO that definitively indicates males are more susceptible. It’s too soon to definitively know,” he says.

Does ibuprofen worsen COVID-19 symptoms?

A small study out of France said that patients could fare worse after taking ibuprofen, but both Norton and Klausner are unconvinced.

“It doesn’t appear to be harmful from the information I’ve seen,” says Klausner.

“I haven’t seen any data on this,” adds Norton.

Are younger people more vulnerable than initially thought?

Research out of China found that the majority of fatalities occurred in people over 60, indicating that younger adults were largely spared. That came into question last week, when the first CDC report on U.S. cases found that of almost 2,500 COVID-19 patients, 55 percent of hospitalizations were of people aged 20 to 64.

However, Klausner believes that the data was skewed.

“The CDC said 40 percent of hospitalized cases in this 2,500 were 20 to 44 years of age. But the population of people 20 to 44 years of age is two or three times that of the elderly population,” he says. “There’s no evidence of any change or any increased risk in young people.”

Does a person’s blood type make them more or less vulnerable to COVID-19?

An unpublished study said that people with one blood type are more susceptible to the virus than others. But Klausner says that he was not aware of any data that points to that, and blood type would not make a difference in the severity of illness.

“The strongest predictor of clinical outcome and severity is age,” he says.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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