Nearly 17% of Recovered COVID-19 Patients Still Test Positive for The Virus

Questions remain whether recovered COVID-19 patients who test positive are still contagious.

Nearly 17% of fully recovered coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients test positive for the virus in follow-up screenings, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused over 1.16 million deaths and there have been more than 44 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Recent research is calling into question the recommended quarantine time and which symptoms could signal that a recovered patient is still carrying the virus.

The study included 131 patients who met the WHO criteria for discontinuation of quarantine at least 2 weeks prior to the follow-up visit. The criteria specify that the patient should be fever-free without fever-reducing medication for 3 days, be more than 7 days passed symptom onset, test negative for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 twice at least 24 hours apart, and show an overall improvement in any symptoms.

Of the 131 patients, 16.7% tested positive again. According to the study, there were no significant differences between patients with positive and negative test results in terms of age or sex.

None of the patients who tested positive again had fever and all reported an improvement in their condition. Many of the participants, even those who tested negative, continued to experience symptoms such as fatigue (51%) and labored breathing (44%).

Only 2 symptoms, sore throat and signs of rhinitis, had a higher prevalence in those who tested positive versus those who didn’t. According to the study, 18% of those who tested positive reported a sore throat versus the 4% who did.

Signs of rhinitis were even higher, with 27% of those testing positive reporting the symptom whereas only 2% of those who tested negative did.

"Clinicians and researchers have focused on the acute phase of COVID-19. but continued monitoring after discharge for long-lasting effects is needed," said lead investigator Francesco Landi, MD, PhD, in a press release.

The study authors said that in order to contain the virus, investigators must determine whether the presence of virus fragments means the patient is still contagious. In the meantime, patients who continue to have symptoms should avoid close contact with others, wear a mask, and potentially undergo an additionalnasopharyngeal swab.

REFERENCE:

Close to 17 percent of patients recovered from COVID-19 could still carry virus [News Release] October 28, 2020; Ann Arbor, Michigan. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/e-ct1102820.php. Accessed October 29, 2020.