Coronavirus: el extraordinario caso del hombre que dio positivo 43 veces por covid-19

por BBC Mundo

En marzo de 2020, Dave Smith, un instructor de manejo británico de 72 años, se contagió de covid-19.

Reino Unido estaba en ese momento atravesando la primera ola de la pandemia y Smith tenía una serie de afecciones de salud preexistentes —había sido diagnosticado con leucemia y tratado exitosamente con quimioterapia en 2019— que lo hacían particularmente vulnerable ante el virus.

La mayoría de las personas infectadas con SARS-CoV-2, incluso aquellas que sufren la llamada covid-19 de larga duración, eliminan el virus de su cuerpo en un promedio de 10 días.

En el caso de Smith, en cambio, este se quedó en estado activo dentro de su cuerpo por más de 290 días.

«Las conté. Fueron 43 veces«, le dice Smith a la BBC, rememorando la cantidad de pruebas PCR que dieron positivo.

«Rezaba todo el tiempo pidiendo que la próxima fuera negativa, pero nunca lo era».

Los médicos confirmaron que no se trataba de una reinfección sino de una infección persistente tras secuenciar el virus en el laboratorio.

Dave Smith y su esposa Lyn

Smith conversó con su esposa para dejar las cosas en orden, pues no creía que se recuperaría.

Los cerca de 10 meses que Smith pasó enfermo —que incluyeron siete internaciones hospitalarias— fueron una agonía para él: sus niveles de energía eran mínimos, y necesitaba ayuda para casi todo.

«En un momento dado estuve tosiendo cinco horas sin parar. Desde las cinco de la mañana hasta las diez de la noche. No puedes imaginar el agotamiento que genera esto en tu cuerpo», dice el paciente, que perdió 60 kilos en el transcurso de su enfermedad.

El de Smith es uno de los casos de infección activa por covid-19 más prolongados que se haya registrado hasta el momento en el mundo.

Infección persistente vs. covid de larga duración

El caso de Smith es extremadamente poco común, sobre todo por la cantidad de tiempo que le llevó eliminar el virus, pero es algo que puede ocurrir en personas inmunocomprometidas.

Así se lo explica a BBC Mundo Andrew Davidson, profesor de virología de la Escuela de Medicina Celular y Molecular de la Universidad de Bristol, en Reino Unido, y parte del equipo que investigó el caso de Smith.

«Normalmente tu sistema inmune se deshace del virus produciendo anticuerpos que se le unen, impidiéndole así que infecte a las células, y también con linfocitos T, que destruyen a las células infectadas con el virus y otros mecanismos», dice.

Pero como el sistema inmunitario de Smith estaba debilitado, no podía combatirlo.

Esto puede ocurrir no solo con el SARS-CoV-2 sino también con muchos otras virus que pueden quedar dentro del cuerpo de forma permanente.

Mujer enferma

En la covid de larga duración los síntomas continúan pese a que el virus fue eliminado, mientras en una infección persistente sigue presente y activo.

«Algunos virus causan una infección persistente y una vez que te has infectado es muy poco probable que te liberes del virus», explica Davidson, y da como ejemplo el virus del VIH que se queda dentro del cuerpo, en estado latente.

«Puedes tratarlo con antivirales que suprimen al virus, pero no lo eliminas», agrega.

El virólogo aclara que la covid-19 de larga duración y la infección de covid persistente son dos cosas diferentes: mientras que en la primera ciertos síntomas como el cansancio o la dificultad para respirar subsisten pese a que el virus ya fue eliminado, en la segunda el virus está presente y activo.

Una hipótesis que está siendo investigada en el caso de la covid de larga duración es la posibilidad de que el virus siga estando dentro del paciente, escondido dentro de algún órgano, y por eso no es detectable.

Hasta el momento esto no ha sido confirmado y esta forma de enfermedad sigue siendo un enigma para los médicos.

El tratamiento de Trump

Smith logró finalmente superar la enfermedad con un cóctel de fármacos antivirales de la farmacéutica estadounidense Regeneron que contienen dos anticuerpos monoclonales (casirivimab y imdevimab).

El tratamiento —el mismo que recibió el expresidente de Estados Unidos Donald Trump— no está aprobado en Reino Unido, pero le fue suministrado a Smith por razones humanitarias, dada la particularidad de su caso.

Después de 45 días de recibir la medicación, la PCR dio por primera vez un resultado negativo.

Expresidente de EE.UU. Donald Trump

Smith fue medicado con los mismos fármacos que se utilizaron para tratar a Trump.

«Fue como haber recibido una nueva vida», recuerda Smith, quien confiesa que estaba «listo para abandonar la pelea» y que había conversado con su esposa Lyn para «dejar los asuntos en orden», pensando en que no sobreviviría.

Sus médicos creen que fueron los fármacos lo que permitió curar la enfermedad, aunque estiman que existe una posibilidad mínima de que el paciente estuviera a punto de mejorar por sí mismo y lo que sucedió fuera una coincidencia, más que una relación causa consecuencia.

«La única manera de probarlo es con un ensayo clínico adecuado», señala Davidson.

Peligros de una infección persistente

Más allá de las implicancias personales de sufrir una infección persistente, la situación crea un riesgo epidemiológico a nivel de la comunidad.

En primer lugar, un paciente con una infección activa es potencialmente contagioso, aunque es difícil saber en qué grado en comparación con una persona que tiene una infección adquirida recientemente.

En el caso de Smith, este no pudo pasar el virus a otras personas ya que, por su debilidad, en la mayor parte del tiempo no salió de casa.

«Pero esto nos hace preguntarnos si no puede haber gente (con una infección persistente) dentro de la comunidad expulsando y propagando el virus», señala Davidson.

PCR

Con cada prueba positiva, Smith iba perdiendo las esperanzas de recuperarse.

Por otro lado, mientras el virus continúe activo dentro de una persona, seguirá evolucionando y cambiando.

«Sabemos que en este caso cambió rápidamente y algunos de estos cambios fueron encontrados también en las variantes preocupantes», explica el virólogo.

«El virus tiene la posibilidad de probar todo tipo de mutaciones y ver qué puede hacer, y puede evolucionar para volverse más transmisible», agrega.

Ahora, fuera de peligro, Smith vive cada día agradecido, como si fuera un regalo.

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