About 1 in 6 fully recovered COVID-19 patients still test positive for the virus

Author: “Our findings indicate that a noteworthy rate of recovered patients with COVID-19 could still be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.”

ROME — While the coronavirus pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on the world, tens of millions of people have thankfully recovered from COVID-19. Unfortunately, a new study finds many of these individuals could still be sick and not know it. Researchers in Italy say nearly 17 percent of patients who have fully recovered from a COVID-19 infection still test positive for the virus in follow-up doctor’s visits.

Researchers from Agostino Gemelli University Policlinic looked at a group of recovering COVID patients to see how their bodies react after treatment and quarantine. The study included 131 patients who all met the World Health Organization’s guidelines for ending quarantine following their infections. Those guidelines require a patient to be fever-free without using medications for three days. They must also have an improvement in their symptoms and test negative for COVID twice at least 24 hours apart.

While the group initially met WHO’s standards for recovering coronavirus patients, 22 (or 16.7%) of the participants tested positive for COVID during their follow-up screenings. Researchers add patients still dealing with sore throats and stuffy noses were more likely to have a new positive test.

“Our findings indicate that a noteworthy rate of recovered patients with COVID-19 could still be asymptomatic carriers of the virus,” lead investigator Francesco Landi says in a media release. “The main question for the containment of SARS-CoV-2 pandemic infection that still needs to be answered is whether persistent presence of virus fragments means the patients is still contagious. The RT-PCR test looks for small fragments of viral RNA. A positive swab test can reveal if patients are still shedding viral fragments, but it is not able to discern whether they are or aren’t infectious.”

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The results also show no significant difference between the age or gender of the patients testing positive or negative. None of the recovering patients had a fever and all reported improvement in their condition before the new positive test.

Symptoms a large portion of the group did continue to report included fatigue (51%), difficulty breathing (44%), and coughing (17%). These however didn’t play a major factor in which participants tested positive or continued to stay virus-free. Only sore throats (18% versus 4%) and rhinitis (27% versus 2%) were seen in a significantly larger portion of positive COVID patients than negative patients.

“Clinicians and researchers have focused on the acute phase of COVID-19, but continued monitoring after discharge for long-lasting effects is needed,” Landi adds.

The study appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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