Shortening Contagious Period for Covid Would Save Millions, in Lives and Money

Results from PHICOR’s computational simulation model show reductions in the contagious period of COVID-19 could avert thousands of hospitalizations and millions of cases and save billions of dollars. (Credit: Sarah Rebbert/PHICOR, 2020 (CC-BY))

(CN) — Much of the focus on developing a Covid-19 vaccine or treatment has concentrated on cure and prevention, but a new computational model released Thursday shows that shortening the contagious period of the illness could prevent millions of infections and save billions of dollars in health care costs.

A team from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and the Lundquist Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center studied the impact of shortening the period of contagion. 

The study, published Thursday in the open-access journal PLOS Computational Biology, suggests that reducing the contagious period of Covid-19 by only half a day could avert up to 1.4 million cases and more than 99,000 hospitalizations, saving $209.5 billion in direct medical and indirect costs — even if only a quarter of people with symptoms were treated.

Current models estimate that most people infected with Covid-19 are infected but not yet contagious for five days, and then contagious for about nine or 10 days. 

But an analysis of computer simulations suggested that if a treatment administered to 25% of the population were able to reduce the infectious period of Covid-19 to 5.5 days, it could avert up to 7.4 million cases. Expanding such treatment to 75% of people infected could avert 29.7 million cases and save $856 billion.

“There may be a tendency to overlook vaccines and other treatments that don’t prevent a Covid-19 infection or cure disease,” said study lead Bruce Lee in a statement. “But this study showed that even relatively small changes in how long people are contagious can significantly affect the transmission and spread of the virus and thus save billions of dollars and avert millions of new cases.”

The study shows the value of even subtle effects of vaccines and medications that may be employed in the fight against Covid-19 and other widespread disease events. Medical advances that can’t necessarily prevent or cure the disease could still have a profound effect on the pandemic.

Researchers hope that the findings could help guide research and investments into development of vaccines or medications that reduce the infectious period of the coronavirus. The findings might also help government agencies plan rollout of theoretical treatments and provide cost insights to guide reimbursement policies.

“This study shows that vaccine and medication development efforts for Covid-19 should focus on the impact to actually help curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, not just benefits of a single patient,” said James McKinnell, a co-author of the study, in a statement. “Widespread treatment, in combination with other prevention efforts, could prove to be the tipping point.”

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