Coronavirus lingers on after patients’ recovery

April 01, 2020

DON’T be complacent, patients who treated for coronavirus (COVID-19) and recovered can still be “carriers” of the virus after their symptoms disappear, according to a new study on 16 patients in China who recovered from the illness.

Dr. Lixin Xie, Lokesh Sharma, PhD, and co-authors said half of the patients they treated for mild COVID-19 infection still had coronavirus for up to eight days after symptoms disappeared.

"COVID-19 patients can be infectious even after their symptomatic recovery, so treat the asymptomatic/recently recovered patients as carefully as symptomatic patients," Dr. Xie said.

The patients were treated and released from the Treatment Center of PLA General Hospital in Beijing between January 28 and February 9.

Researchers collected samples from throat swabs taken from all patients on alternate days and analyzed. Patients were discharged after their recovery and confirmation of negative viral status by at least two consecutive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

The primary symptoms in these patients included fever, cough, pain in the pharynx (pharyngalgia) and difficult or labored breathing (dyspnea). Patients were treated with a range of medications.

"The most significant finding from our study is that half of the patients kept shedding the virus even after resolution of their symptoms," said co-lead author Dr. Sharma, instructor of medicine, Section of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, from Yale School of Medicine. "More severe infections may have even longer shedding times."

Dr. Xie advised patients with mild symptoms of COVID-19 who are on self-quarantine at home to extend their quarantine for another two weeks.

"If you had mild respiratory symptoms from COVID-19 and were staying at home so as not to infect people, extend your quarantine for another two weeks after recovery to ensure that you don't infect other people," said lead author Dr. Xie, professor at the College of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Chinese PLA General Hospital, Beijing.

They noted that it is unclear whether similar results would hold true for more vulnerable patients such as the elderly, those with suppressed immune systems and patients on immunosuppressive therapies. (ScienceDaily/ American Thoracic Society)