Expert breaks down coronavirus research: Is it worse than HIV? Is it mutating?

27 April 2020, 13:20 | Updated: 29 April 2020, 14:22

By Seán Hickey

A leading virologist gave LBC an insight into the scientific research behind coronavirus and what we know so far about the pandemic.

Professor Robert Gallo is best known for the discovery of the link between HIV and AIDS and the development of the HIV blood test. He is the Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, co-founder and director of the Institute Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-founder of the Global Virus Network.

Darren Adam had Professor Gallo on the line to discuss his research in the past and the work he's carrying out during the coronavirus crisis. "We have learned to live with HIV" Darren began, listing out how it has changed from a death sentence to a disease that humans can live a long life with. He wondered if this could be possibly the path we're taking with Covid-19.

Professor Gallo dismissed the claim quickly. "They both produced a pandemic but the similarity ends there". The virologist was quick to point out that once you get HIV you have it for life, but coronavirus doesn't seem to fall into the same bracket.

"This guy's calling card is extreme infectiousness" the HIV pioneer stated, sharing how relatively difficult it is to spread in comparison to coronavirus.

Darren pointed out the issues noticed so far in testing in the UK. He wanted to know the Professor's opinion on the strategy, and what are the major flaws spotted so far.

"False positives have been a problem" he began. The virologist pointed out that the whole point of testing and tracing is thrown out the window if tests aren't close to 100% accurate and with a current accuracy of around 95%, they need to be developed further and faster.

Professor Gallo told Darren that "this is a solvable problem" and shouldn't be detrimental to how the world reacts to the pandemic.

Virologist broke down the findings of coronavirus research
Virologist broke down the findings of coronavirus research. Picture: PA

Darren wanted to know from the research aspect how much the experts are discovering about the novel coronavirus. He was quick to reveal that virologists are "learning every day" and stated the most interesting discovery so far is Covid-19's potential to mutate.

"This seems to be on the lower edge of mutation" Professor Gallo revealed. He also pointed out that when the virus mutates, he doesn't see anything to indicate the it is becoming more lethal and if anything it weakens as it mutates as the human host's condition improves.

"We learn something new about the virus regularly" the scientific advisor stated and insisted this as a positive in the battle against the pandemic.

Bringing listeners back down to earth, the virologist insisted that a vaccine for Covid-19 is not imminent as more research still has to be carried out.

"Will we see a vaccine in the next few months? No, the data isn't as complete as it needs to be." Professor Gallo stated.

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify