The COVID-19 pandemic, the most devastating health crisis in more than a century, will be entering its third year in March. As of January 14, some 317 million COVID-19 cases and 5.5 million related deaths have occurred worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center. The United States has tallied approximately 62.5 million COVID-19 cases and 840,000 related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and the resulting human toll and societal and economic disruption have led to an unprecedented worldwide marshalling of research efforts. SARS-CoV-2 has become perhaps the most studied virus in history.
This is reflected in PubMed, the database maintained by the National Institutes of Health. A search of that database on January 14 using the term “COVID-19” retrieved 217,349 citations related to the disease.
That’s in just 2 years. By comparison, a search for “influenza” turned up 145,583 citations in the entire database. HIV had more entries (390,846), but that’s for research published during the approximately 4 decades since the virus was first recognized.
The COVID-19 research effort to date has identified risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection, characterized the spectrum of clinical manifestations of infection, and zeroed in on which treatments are effective and those that are not. Such knowledge could lead to improved infection control measures and therapeutics for SARS-CoV-2 and perhaps better prepare us for whatever epidemic or pandemic comes next.
The second year of the pandemic comes to an end with the emergence of a SARS-CoV-2 variant called Omicron. This variant is extremely transmissible, with experts saying they have never seen such a communicable virus. But it appears to cause milder disease than other variants. It remains unclear what the appearance of this less-virulent form of the virus means for the trajectory of the pandemic.
Regardless, like pandemics before it, this one will end eventually. The massive effort underway to vaccinate people against the virus has slowed its spread, but challenges remain in persuading millions of reluctant individuals to get their shots. SARS-CoV-2 could become endemic like seasonal influenza, with people learning to live with it, experts say. Meanwhile, researchers around the globe continue to probe COVID-19 from every scientific angle, and probably will do so for years to come.