Of all the viral diseases and emerging infections that he’s encountered throughout his career, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he has “never seen anything with a range” like the novel coronavirus, which he said suggests factors other than underlying medical conditions affect disease severity.
At least 40% of patients have no symptoms, while some stay ill for months on end, Fauci said.
“It’s just completely unique to see that degree of variability of a single microbe, which means there are things that are determining that, that we still at this point don’t understand,” Fauci said.
“It isn’t just whether you have an underlying disease or not – it’s just not the case. It’s something more than that,” he added during a virtual panel on the global pandemic sponsored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
He said one of those factors may be “the rate of expression of ACE2 receptors.” These are molecular doorways into cells that the novel coronavirus appears to favor. Some cells have more of these receptors than others do.
Fauci said this variability has created confusion. It’s helped fuel misunderstandings about who can spread the virus and when.
“One of the things we’re dealing with in this country is a real lack of understanding of the importance of everybody trying to prevent getting infected rather than inadvertently… propagating the outbreak,” he said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly described the number of patients who lack coronavirus symptoms. It is at least 40%.