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Many people recovered from COVID-19 still carry virus, study shows

Although meeting the criteria for discontinuation of quarantine, patients with persistent respiratory symptoms are more likely to test positive for the virus.

In a recent study, researchers found new data that address important questions pertaining to the containment of the coronavirus pandemic:

When should COVID-19 quarantine really end and which continuing symptoms may be more indicative of a positive test in recovered patients?

The researchers examined patients who recovered from COVID-19 and focused on what happens to them after recovery and to assess the impact of the virus on their bodies.

They found that close to 17% of patients considered fully recovered from COVID-19 tested positive for the virus in follow-up screening.

Patients who continued to have respiratory symptoms, especially sore throat and rhinitis, were more likely to have a new positive test result.

This suggests the persistence of these two symptoms should not be underestimated and should be adequately assessed in all patients considered recovered from COVID-19.

The research was conducted by a team at the Fondazione Policlinico Universitario “Agostino Gemelli” IRCCS, Rome, Italy.

The study included 131 patients who met the World Health Organization (WHO) criteria for discontinuation of quarantine at least two weeks prior to the follow-up visit.

The WHO criteria specify that the patient should be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three days, show improvement in any symptoms related to COVID-19, be more than seven days past symptom onset, and test negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus twice, at least 24 hours apart, with reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR) testing.

The team found 22 (16.7%) of the patients tested positive again. There was no big difference between patients with positive and negative test results in terms of age or sex.

The only two symptoms that were higher and prevalent in patients with a positive test were sore throat (18% vs. 4%) and signs of rhinitis (27% vs. 2%).

These findings suggest that a noteworthy rate of recovered patients with COVID-19 could still be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

Importantly, the researchers recommend that for patients who continue to have symptoms potentially related to COVID-19, it is reasonable to be cautious and avoid close contact with others, wear a face mask, and possibly undergo an additional nasopharyngeal swab.

One author of the study is Francesco Landi, MD, Ph.D.

The study is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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