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How long COVID-19 can keep someone infected before dying? British doctors report longest infection to date

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British experts claimed to have found the longest-known case of Coronavirus – chronic infection, rather than repeated bouts, in which a patient was infected for more than 16 months, or 505 days, before being treated.

The unnamed individual died in 2021 from different medical concerns.

According to the London doctors, persistent infections like this are still uncommon.

The infection is usually cleared naturally in most people, but the patient in question had a severely damaged immune system.

Experts suggest that chronic infections like this need to be studied in order to increase our understanding of Covid and the risks it can pose.

How long one can stay infected with COVID-19? British doctors report longest infection to date
How long one can stay infected with COVID-19? British doctors report longest infection to date

Covid was initially caught by the patient in early 2020. They exhibited symptoms, and a PCR test confirmed the illness.

Over the next 72 weeks, they were in and out of the hospital numerous times for routine examinations and care.

They tested positive on each occasion – around 50 in total – indicating that they still had Covid.

According to the experts from King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, comprehensive lab research confirmed that it was the same, persistent illness rather than many bouts.

Even after being administered antiviral medicines, the patient could not get rid of the virus.

This differs from “long Covid,” in which symptoms continue after the infection has cleared.

Dr. Luke Blagdon Snell is one of the doctors who will deliver the findings at a medical conference called the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

The doctor told the BBC: “These were throat swab tests that were positive each time. The patient never had a negative test. And we can tell it was one continuous infection because the genetic signature of it – the information we got from sequencing the viral genome – was unique and constant in that patient.”

Long-term infections are rare but crucial, according to the researchers, because they may lead to the emergence of novel Covid strains – though this did not happen in this case or others they reviewed.

Dr. Snell added: “The virus is still adapting to the human host when people are infected for a long time. It might provide an opportunity for Covid to accrue new mutations.

“Some of these patients that we have studied have mutations that have been seen in some of the variants of concern.”

According to him, no new dangerous mutation had been discovered in any of the nine patients they evaluated.

He went on to say that someone with chronic infections might not be contagious to others.

“We know that every time the virus replicates, it must reproduce its RNA – equivalent to manually copying a text book,” said Dr David Strain of the University of Exeter Medical School, “We know if we were to transcribe an entire book we would make mistakes, so too does the virus. Every copy will produce mutations.

“Although Omicron did not arise in these particular individuals, this demonstrates a very clear pathway by which vaccine resistant variants may arise. Whereas with BA.2 we have got lucky, that the mutation is associated with a less severe illness, there is no guarantee that the next iteration will be the same.”

Image Credit: Getty

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