Extraordinary Patient Offers Surprising Clues To Origins Of Coronavirus Variants


Back in the spring of last year, a 45-year-old man went to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston because of a coronavirus infection. Doctors treated him with steroids and discharged him five days later.

But the infection never went away — for 154 days. “He was readmitted to the hospital several times over the subsequent five months for recurrence of his COVID-19 infection and severe pneumonia,” says infectious disease doctor Jonathan Li at Harvard Medical School, who helped treat the man.

“So this is an extraordinary individual,” Li says.

So extraordinary in fact that this man’s case is offering scientists surprising clues about where the new coronavirus variants emerged and why they’re causing explosive outbreaks on three continents.

To be clear here, the man wasn’t what doctors call a “long hauler,” or a person who clears a coronavirus infection and then continues to have health problems for months. This man had living, growing virus in his body for five months, Li says. The same infection lasted for five months.

“That is one of the remarkable aspects of this case,” Li says. “In fact, he was highly infectious even five months after the initial diagnosis.”

This man had a severe autoimmune disease that required him to take drugs to suppress his immune system. So his body couldn’t fight off the coronavirus infection as well as a healthy person could. He would get better for a while, and then the virus would counterattack. He would fall sick again. Eventually, he ended up in the intensive care unit. He passed away five months after the initial diagnosis.


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