Researchers in China studied data from some 191 COVID-19 patients, including 54 who died, who were treated at Jinyintan Hospital and Wuhan Pulmonary Hospital.
They concluded that the virus’s RNA can live in a patient’s body an average of 20 days, but up to 37 days, or about 5 weeks. Currently, those infected with the virus have been recommended to remain in self-isolation for 14 days, a period of time that has been said to be the incubation period for the virus.
“In the current study, we found that the detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA persisted for a median of 20 days in survivors and that it was sustained until death in non-survivors,” the study’s authors wrote in the study, which was published earlier this week in the medical journal The Lancet.
For comparison, “viral RNA was detected in respiratory specimens from about a third of patients as long as 4 weeks after disease onset,” for about a third of patients during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. And for those infected with the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), “the duration of MERS-CoV RNA detection in lower respiratory specimens persisted for at least 3 weeks,” they added.
The researchers noted that the finding “has important implications for both patient isolation decision making and guidance around the length of antiviral treatment.”