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Amid growing coronavirus cases, another number increasing: recoveries

At least 15 coronavirus patients in the U.S. are said to have recovered.
Image: Coronavirus
A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication, together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19.NEXU Science Communication / via Reuters

It only took a few days for the Wisconsin patient to get over the fever and a cough — and feel well enough to get out of bed and back to normal life: shop for groceries, hang out in a coffee shop, maybe see a new movie.

But that wasn't an option, because the patient wasn't getting over the common cold or even the flu. Instead, the individual had the new coronavirus, meaning it would be several weeks before the person — who remains unidentified for privacy — could leave the house or invite friends and family to visit.

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"For most people, this will be the course. It will be like a cold," Dr. Nasia Safdar, the patient's physician, told NBC News.

So far, at least 15 people with confirmed coronavirus infections in the United States are said to have made full recoveries. In addition to the Wisconsin patient, six people in California, four people in Nebraska, two people in Illinois, one in Arizona and one in Washington are better.

In South Korea, 47 people were declared-virus free Tuesday, the largest discharge of patients that country has seen in a single day. A total of 88 people in South Korea have recovered so far.

And more than half of coronavirus patients worldwide have become better, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Of 96,988 cases around the globe, 53,638 have recovered.

What recovery looks like

People with confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness that results from the new coronavirus infection, are either isolated in the hospital or at home — depending on the severity of their illness — until they no longer test positive for the virus. How long that takes can vary; one individual in Humboldt County, California, was released from isolation nine days after the case was announced; another, in Chicago, was in isolation in the hospital, and then at home, for about a month.

Isolation does not mean a patient is particularly dangerous. The measure is put into place simply to prevent spread of the virus in the community.

"That's why these seemingly drastic measures are being taken," Safdar, the medical director of infection control and prevention at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, told NBC News. "If you're a positive COVID-19 case, you stay in isolation until testing shows that you are negative."

"Then you can be released into the community," she said.

The World Health Organization reports about 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild. Most involve fever, cough and perhaps shortness of breath. People with mild cases are expected to recover without issue, and some may not be aware they're ever sick.

"It's reassuring to know that the majority of people who get this disease have no symptoms or mild symptoms," Dr. Robert Citronberg, director of infectious diseases with Advocate Aurora Health in Illinois, said.

But people with chronic health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease, are more likely to have complications from the coronavirus.

"Those are the ones who do poorly when they get pneumonia or an infection of the lung," Dr. Vincent Bonagura, an infectious diseases expert at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, said.

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Wisconsin health officials declined to disclose the patient's age, but the majority of other patients who have suffered complications are older adults with underlying health problems.

Eight of the 11 people who have died so far were elderly, in their 70s, 80s or 90s. At least five of those patients were known to have underlying health issues, as do several other coronavirus patients currently in critical condition.

And because COVID-19 tends to affect the lower respiratory tract, people who smoke or have other chronic lung diseases may be at particular risk.

"Those things have created damage to the lung tissue," Dr. Terry Mason, chief operating officer of Illinois' Cook County Department of Public Health, said, adding "chronic lung diseases are going to make this a more difficult recovery."

Cook County was the site of the country's first evidence the virus had the ability to spread from one person to another: a married couple.

Both husband and wife have since recovered. But it took longer for them to get better; at least a few weeks, Mason estimated. Both were over age 60, and one had underlying health problems.

"We really wanted to make sure they didn't have fevers, any respiratory compromise or anything like that prior to their discharge," he said.

"Chances are, most people who don't have an underlying disease or are not terribly old, will recover pretty well from this virus," Bonagura said.

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