- A 71-year-old hospital patient with leukemia tested positive for coronavirus in March.
- The woman remains contagious for at least 70 days.
- Case studies show that people with immunosuppression of coronavirus infection can be contagious longer than thought.
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On March 2, a 71-year-old patient with leukemia tested positive for coronavirus.
On average, patients with COVID-19 emit infectious virus particles for about eight days. But 70 days after diagnosis, the elderly patient still releases infectious particles. By mid-June, more than 100 days later, the woman was still positive – meaning her body still had traces of the virus’s genetic material.
“We think that by the 70th at least, this patient would be able to spread the virus to others,” Vincent Munster, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Business Insider. Munster is the lead author of a recent female case study.
Since the patient was quickly isolated in a room, she did not pass the virus on to anyone else.
According to Munster’s study, published in the journal Cell earlier this week, the patient’s 70-day period of infection was the longest ever seen in a patient with asymptomatic coronavirus. For comparison, the longest known infectious period for a person with symptoms was 61 days, according to a study in October.
Researchers believe the condition occurs because a woman’s weakened immune system is unable to provide a significant protective layer against the virus. Her blood tests never showed significant amounts of antibodies, but in most patients helped fight the infection. But she also never developed symptoms.
Immunocompromised people struggle to fight back Coronavirus
Case studies that are consistent with a growing group of researchers show that immunocompromised people are able to get rid of the new coronavirus, clinically named SARS-CoV-2, longer than those with the immune system healthy translation. A June study of 10 coronavirus immunosuppressed patients found that they excreted viral particles for an average of 28.4 days. In contrast, those with an active immune system get rid of it in 12.2 days.
One reason for this is that people with more severe cases of COVID-19 tend to clear the virus longer than other patients. Immunocompromised people face a much higher risk of serious illness because they cannot fight off infection as well as people with healthy immune systems.
An estimated 3 million people in the US are immunocompromised in some way, including HIV-infected people and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
However, the patients in the new case study have an exceptionally weak immune system, says Munster. Which means an infection like her 70 days is probably very rare. This woman had a 10-year history of chronic leukemia, a cancer that infects white blood cells, an integral part of the immune system. She was hospitalized for anemia, a condition commonly associated with leukemia because it depletes red blood cells.
She also has a condition in which the immune system is unable to produce significant antibodies, known as hypoglycemia.
“We think this is a relatively rare case associated with this particular patient’s immune status,” said Munster.
However, it could mean that the long-term spread of the virus – defined as potentially infectious for at least 20 days – may be more common than previously thought in some people with impaired reduced immunity.
Although it is difficult to extrapolate from one patient, our data suggest that the long-term spread of infectious virus may be a concern in some impaired patients, the researchers wrote. immunity ”.