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headshot of Linghua Li
Linghua Li, MD, PhD

Linghua Li, MD, PhD, is an infectious disease specialist and AIDS clinic director at Eighth People’s Hospital in Guangzhou, China. She did two years of postdoctoral training in infectious diseases at Duke University and at UNC, working with the Institute’s David Wohl, MD. Here, she reports from the frontlines on dealing with COVID-19 in Guangzhou, which is about 600 miles from the virus’s original epicenter in Hubei.


How has your role has changed with the COVID-19 crisis? 

Linghua: I am in charge of the AIDS clinic, but I’ve had to be responsible for the clinical trials on the treatment strategy of COVID-19 and some research on COVID-19.


Tell us about your work with COVID-19 patients.

I only occasionally saw COVID-19 patients. At first, as we did not know the disease, we tried many antiviral drugs, but none of them performed well, including lopinavir/r and atrbidol. Everyone — including many scientists and government officials — wanted to help control the disease and save lives, so they gave a lot of advice, some of which was not suitable for clinical practice. Physicians in other specialties were called in to help us including cardiologists, psychologists, respiratory physicians and others. Physicians from the infectious diseases department, ICU and respiratory departments cooperated closely on patient care.

Li fully suited in the hospital

How are your colleagues feeling, are you seeing optimism that you’ve passed the peak of cases?

We are feeling well because we have a lot of support from the hospital authorities, society and government. We are somewhat optimistic because we have had no new domestic cases for a few days, but we are still cautious because of the increasing number of imported cases in Guangzhou, which is a big and international city.

Most of our patients have been discharged from the hospital with only three still here and one death in our hospital. According to my observation, they were optimistic and satisfied with the treatment and the government.


For the most critically ill patients who have been treated successfully, how long has it taken typically for them to start improving?

I did not see critically ill patients, but according to the medical records, it seemed to take about 30 days.


What lessons have you and your colleagues learned?

We have to be careful about using suitable antiviral drugs and antibiotics and we need to closely observe those patients’ conditions.


How has the virus changed your day-to-day life?

The virus changes everyone’s life. For example, I can’t go to the gym. I have to wear a mask if I go outside. I have to get my temperature checked several times per day. I could not attend conferences, both at home and abroad.


Any messages you’d like to share with the UNC community?

In my opinion, good quarantine measures are important in the epidemic areas such as Wuhan, but not very crucial for non-epidemic areas such as Guangzhou and Shenyang. However, social distancing makes a considerable difference, including wearing a standard surgical mask or ordinary mask when people have contact with other people outside of their homes. Washing your hands often, not touching your face and getting adequate ventilation are also key points. And reserve N95 masks for health care workers.

No effective antiviral medicines are available so far. For patients with a mild case, treating those mild symptoms is enough. If patients have pneumonia, oxygen treatment is very important. If the condition gets worse, they should go to the hospital. Careful monitoring is very important. Patients could use some antiviral medicines, for example chloroquine seems to shorten the virus clearance time to some extent, but its side effects should be monitored carefully.

Patient leaves Chinese hospital with flower bouquet and face masks

A 25-year-old woman (in pink surrounded by medics) leaves the isolation ward
of People’s Hospital of Bozhou in East China on Jan. 29, 2020.
She was the first patient to be cured of COVID-19 in Bozhou. People’s Daily Online photo


Read more of our April 2020 Findings newsletter