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Recurrence of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA in recovered COVID-19 patients: a narrative review

  • Dao, Thi Loi1, 2, 3
  • Hoang, Van Thuan1, 2, 3
  • Gautret, Philippe1, 2
  • 1 Aix Marseille University,
  • 2 IHU-Méditerranée Infection,
  • 3 Thai Binh University of Medicine and Pharmacy,
Published Article
European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases
Publication Date
Oct 28, 2020
DOI: 10.1007/s10096-020-04088-z
PMID: 33113040
PMCID: PMC7592450
PubMed Central


Many studies have shown that re-positive tests for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR in recovered COVID-19 patients are very common. We aim to conduct this review to summarize the clinical and epidemiological characteristics of these patients and discuss the potential explanations for recurrences, the contagiousness of re-detectable positive SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the management of COVID-19 patients after discharge from hospital. The proportion of re-positive tests in discharged COVID-19 patients varied from 2.4 to 69.2% and persisted from 1 to 38 days after discharge, depending on population size, age of patients, and type of specimens. Currently, several causes of re-positive tests for SARS-CoV-2 in recovered COVID-19 patients are suggested, including false-negative, false-positive RT-PCR tests; reactivation; and re-infection with SARS-CoV-2, but the mechanism leading to these re-positive cases is still unclear. The prevention of re-positive testing in discharged patients is a fundamental measure to control the spread of the pandemic. In order to reduce the percentage of false-negative tests prior to discharge, we recommend performing more than two tests, according to the standard sampling and microbiological assay protocol. In addition, specimens should be collected from multiple body parts if possible, to identify SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA before discharge. Further studies should be conducted to develop novel assays that target a crucial region of the RNA genome in order to improve its sensitivity and specificity.

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