In a new study, researchers found that half of the patients they treated for mild COVID-19 infection still had coronavirus for up to eight days after symptoms disappeared.
The report details a study of 16 patients with COVID-19 who were treated and released from a treatment centre in Beijing between 28 January and 9 February. The patients had a median age of 35.5 years.
Researchers collected samples from throat swabs taken from all patients on alternate days and these were analysed.
Patients were discharged after their recovery and confirmation of negative viral status by at least two consecutive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
“The most significant finding from our study is that half of the patients kept shedding the virus even after resolution of their symptoms,” said report co-author Dr Lokesh Sharma from the Yale School of Medicine.
“More severe infections may have even longer shedding times.”
The primary symptoms in these patients included fever, cough, pain in the pharynx and difficult or laboured breathing.
Patients were treated with a range of medicines.
The time from infection to onset of symptoms (incubation period) was five days among all but one patient.
The average duration of symptoms was eight days, while the length of time patients remained contagious after the end of their symptoms ranged from one to eight days.
Two patients had diabetes and one had tuberculosis, neither of which affected the timing of the course of COVID-19 infection.
“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,” recommended co-author Professor Lixin Xie.
“COVID-19 patients can be infectious even after their symptomatic recovery, so treat the asymptomatic/recently recovered patients as carefully as symptomatic patients.”
The researchers emphasised that all of these patients had milder infections and recovered from the disease, and that the study looked at a small number of patients.
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.
For the latest advice, information and resources, go to www.health.gov.au, or call the 24-hour National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450. Details of your state or territory public health agency are available at www.health.gov.au/state-territory-contacts.
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