The guidelines for releasing people infected with the COVID-19 virus from hospitals or quarantine may need to be reviewed. This is on the basis of evidence from a small study recently carried out by researchers in China.
The research published in the journal JAMA suggests that the coronavirus can remain in the body up to about two weeks, or longer, after the symptoms of an infection might have resolved.
Experts say that people who recover from the virus may enjoy stronger protection against it. But there is still the risk of them passing on the virus, although the possibility of that is greatly lower.
Testing positive following recovery
The new study focused on four medical professionals who contracted the novel coronavirus. These subjects, whose ages were between 30 and 36, received treatment at a hospital in Wuhan University, China.
The patients were given the antiviral drug oseltamivir, which is popularly known under the brand name Tamiflu. Only one of the persons was hospitalized while ill and all the four recovered.
The infected medical professionals were thought to have recovered following the vanishing of their symptoms. They also returned negative results after being tested for the virus twice.
The patients were advised to self-quarantine at home for five days after they were deemed to have recovered. They then underwent throat swab tests from five to 13 days after recovery.
Post-recovery testing – up to 13 days after – showed that the subjects still carried the virus.
The researchers said their findings revealed that at least a portion of patients who recovered from the virus may remain carriers.
How persistence occurs
Experts say it is nothing out of the ordinary for viruses to remain after a patient recovers, according to Live Science. The Ebola and Zika viruses, for instance, are known to remain in patients for months after recovery.
Ebenezer Tumban, a Michigan Tech University virologist, explained that the antiviral the patients took probably only reduced their viral loads drastically. There could still be very low viral copies left that the testing method could not detect. The viruses probably began to replicate after the treatment ended.
However, the patients did not show any symptoms because the viruses were not sufficient to cause tissue damage.
Without very close contact, it is unlikely that such patients could transmit the virus to others, said Temple University epidemiologist Krys Johnson. Sneezing and coughing will not throw around enough viral particles to cause an infection.
The patients in the study did not show symptoms, including coughing and sneezing, after recovery. It then means that they probably were not highly infectious.
The spread of the virus from such patients will require closer contact, such as the sharing of drinks.
Johnson disclosed to Live Science that viruses remaining in patients post-recovery could be a good thing.
“If the virus is staying in people’s systems, then they may not be able to be reinfected,” he said.
Through their persistence, the viruses may enable a patient to develop a stronger immune response to ward off re-infection.
It is not totally clear, however, how long such immunity is valid. Immunity to coronaviruses responsible for the common cold lasts only for 1-2 years, Tumban said.
There are also other questions on immunity following recovery. For example, some patients have been reported to contract the virus again after recovering from it previously.
Johnson said it was not clear why a re-infection could occur. In reference to a case in Japan, he said the patient probably got infected with a different variant from another person. It was also possible that her body never really overcame the original virus totally to begin with, according to him.
Experts express the need for further research. This will provide more knowledge of the COVID-19 recovery process.
Researchers could also probe the lungs to have a better idea of viral loads left in patients. Throat swabs might not give the best picture of the situation.
Can people spread coronavirus after they recover? | Live Science (https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-spread-after-recovery.html)