Coronavirus can linger in the body for up to 14 days before symptoms appear. But, now, experts are seeing an emerging trend whereby some patients test positive for months.
Charles Pignal, 42, tested positive for COVID-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 – on March 4.
Due to his short-lived display of symptoms – a cough and fever – the man from Singapore expected his stint in hospital to be quick.
On March 12, he wrote on Instagram: “Feeling fine, no symptoms but still testing positive.
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“Just found out I’m probably here for another week or so.”
But that extra week turned into a few more weeks, as Charles was suspected to still be contagious.
The footwear executive didn’t leave the Singapore National Center for Infectious Diseases until April 11.
Finally receiving a back-to-back negative result, Charles was allowed to return home to his fiancée.
Cases like Charles are taking place all over the world, signalling an emerging trend.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states: “Some reports have indicated that people with no symptoms can transmit the virus.
“It is not yet known how often it happens.”
With so much to still learn about COVID-19, growing reports of people’s experiences of the virus are painting a clearer picture.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) found that 292 people who were deemed recovered tested positive for the virus again.
Oh Myoungdon, head of the KCDC’s clinical committee for emerging disease control, told Newsweek: “RNA fragments still can exist in a cell even if the virus is inactivated.
“It is more likely that those who tested positive again picked up virus RNA that has already been inactivated.”
New Scientist said: “Coronaviruses have extraordinarily large single-stranded RNA genomes.”
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The publication explained: “Coronaviruses replicate their RNA genomes using enzymes called RNA-dependent RNA polymerases.
“Prone to errors, genomic analysis so far suggests that COVID-19 is mutating slowly, reducing the chance of it changing to become more deadly.”
One question researchers are grappling with is whether people who test positive for the virus gain future immunity.
“There is some anecdotal evidence of reinfections, but we really don’t know,” says Ira Longini at the University of Florida.
Peter Opensha, at Imperial College London, said: “Some other viruses in the coronavirus family, such as those that cause common colds, tend to induce immunity that is relatively short-lived, at around three months.
“Because [the virus] is so new, we do not yet know how long any protection generated through infection will last.”
But another researcher, Martin Hibberd at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is more optimistic.
He said: “The evidence is increasingly convincing that infection with SARS-CoV-2 leads to an antibody response that is protective. Most likely this protection is for life.”
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