If I get COVID, how long am I contagious? Can I get it again?

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Image credit to pixabay.com. Image modified from original.

Since COVID-19 arrived, the news has been centered around those who haven’t contracted the virus, and when I tested positive myself a week ago, I found that I had a lot of questions— left with minimal guidance.

So, I set out to look for answers for the fifty-thousand South Carolinians who have had it or those who might get infected or those exposed to someone who has it.

As ABC 15 has reported, the CDC has adjusted its endorsement to say those who test positive for COVID-19 don’t require to be tested again before being around others. Instead, the center promotes that you could interact with others ten days after your initial symptoms, as long as you haven’t had the flu for three days, and your symptoms continue to alleviate.

But did that indicate I wasn’t contagious after day 10?

Dr. Brharadwaj is the director of infection epidemiology and infection prevention for McLeod Health and advised me that there had been multiple studies on patients who tested positive to find that answer.

“To see if the virus is viable, which is can it be spread from one person to the other,” Dr. Brharadwaj stated. “They have not demonstrated that the virus is viable after ten days of illness.”

He continued, “Based on that guidance, is why the CDC has changed their recommendation to include a symptom-based strategy for discontinuation of isolation.”

Even though these patients are incapable of spreading the virus after ten days, a small population still test positive through the nasal tests.

Dr. Brharadwaj advised me that’s because the nasal test seeks the virus’ RNA, or the material of the virus. Without quantifying whether the virus of active or inactive.

Instances like this, the test collects parts of the virus that are no longer active in patients who had recovered. “Now that RNA could just be the dead virus RNA which is sitting in the nose, and that is being picked up,” Dr. Brharadwaj stated.

In other words, the nasal tests only show, patients who had recovered, were still ‘positive,’ because the virus material was there.

Dr. Brharadwaj stated that it’s what occurred to a case in South Korea, where two patients were speculated to had been reinfected. It was determined the patients were not reinfected and had fully recovered.

“In those patients, they were not able to detect any viable virus, so it was found that the test was finding the dead virus material, rather than that being true reinfection,” he said.

That brought another question that is weighing heavy on my mind:

“Can I get this virus again?”

Dr. Brharadwaj said so far. There are no PUBLISHED case reports of reinfection.

He claimed that while there have been no studies on humans, there have been studies on animals. He stated those papers indicated that after an animal had fully recovered from COVID-19, they were exposed to the virus again. In these cases, the animals were not reinfected.

That doesn’t translate, letting you guard down if you’ve had the virus, though.

“Just because one has recovered from COVID-19, we do not say that ‘oh, now you have a passport to go around freely without a mask,'” he said.

He said it’s still early, and there’s limited data, so even if you had the virus, you should continue all the same preventive measures like washing your hands and wearing a mask.

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