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COVID-19 patients may remain infectious for weeks after recovery

Patients with the new coronavirus keep the pathogen in their respiratory tract for as long as 37 days, a new study found, suggesting they could remain infectious for many weeks.

In a new study published in The Lancet March 11, 2020, doctors in China detected novel coronavirus RNA in respiratory samples from survivors for as long as 37 days, with a median of 20 days, after they became infected.

What does this mean? The study suggests that patients who have recovered from the coronavirus may remain infectious for longer than previously thought. In other words, the virus took between 8 and 37 days to fully shed, with an average viral shedding time of 20 days.

The finding brings into the question the 14-day quarantine period most health authorities are suggesting for people who test positive for the coronavirus. It may not be a long enough time to be sure the virus has finished shedding.

Professor Bin Cao, the co-lead author of the study, said: “The extended viral shedding noted in our study has important implications for guiding decisions around isolation precautions and antiviral treatment in patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection.”

“However, we need to be clear that viral shedding time should not be confused with other self-isolation guidance for people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but do not have symptoms, as this guidance is based on the incubation time of the virus”.

Based on their findings, according to the UK’s Mirror, the researchers are recommending that negative tests be required before a patient is discharged from the hospital. Professor Cao added: “In severe influenza, delayed viral treatment extends how long the virus is shed, and together these factors put infected patients at risk of dying.”

Professor Cao also noted that even with effective antiviral treatment, the duration of shedding of the virus was not observed in the 191 patients studied. The COPID-19 virus has spread to 118 countries and infected about 125,000 people since first emerging in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year, reports Bloomberg.

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