Can COVID-19 linger or do some people get it twice?

Published: Jul. 15, 2020 at 3:28 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 15, 2020 at 8:42 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Why do some COVID-19 patients test positive weeks after the virus was first identified in their body? The answer is something health officials in Vermont, the U.S. and the world are trying to figure out right now.

Our Cat Viglienzoni asked health officials how many cases there are like this in Vermont.

When I asked, the health department said they had an idea but wouldn't go into the numbers. And that's because they told me these are complicated cases that require a lot of investigation.

Here’s what typically happens for COVID patients: they test positive. Then, after about 10 days or so, they no longer have the live virus in their system and test negative.

But health department epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Read says there are some cases where six or eight weeks after the patient still tests positive. And those patients present a challenge.

"We're still learning about the virus and the infection. And we're learning that some people can just be doing very well clinically, but they could be positive for weeks and weeks and weeks," Read said.

There is national research going on right now in coordination with the CDC to take a closer look at these cases. The health department reached out last month to the state’s health care professionals to encourage them to refer patients to that study. Dr. Read told me Vermonters are in it.

Read says they're trying to determine whether these are people who got the virus a second time or never got rid of it. And there's another possibility. Someone could have recovered but could still have traces of the dead COVID-19 virus' genetic material in their nasal passage which would get picked up by a PCR test. So each case could be different.

If you've clinically recovered, there's no evidence that you can transmit the virus to someone else. But if you have a persistent or recurring infection, that's not clear. So Read says they're having conversations daily about what to do in these cases.

Bottom line-- she says it’s a new virus and there isn’t complete information out yet on it.

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