Coronavirus symptoms: When are you most infectious? Study suggests signs to watch out for
Coronavirus is intensifying just as the UK enjoys a warm spell this weekend. Today marks the biggest daily rise in deaths so far, with another 708 people losing their lives after testing positive for the pathogen. Health secretary Matt Hancock is acutely aware of this unfortunate timing and has urged all UK citizens to resist the temptation to go outside.
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To some, these measures may seem like an overreaction, particularly as most people you cross paths while exercising do not exhibit signs of sickness, but a new study shows that this is a comforting delusion.
According to research posted to the preprint database medRxiv, people infected with the novel coronavirus are most infectious in the early stages of the virus and likely become less infectious as the disease wears on, according to a small study.
The research is still preliminary, because it has not yet been peer-reviewed and because it included only nine participants.
However, it offers an explanation as to why the virus may be so widespread: Many people may be at their most infectious when exhibiting only mild, cold-like symptoms.
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers conducted their analysis by taking swabs from the patients’ noses and throats, also examining their blood, urine, stool and sputum — a mixture of saliva and mucus that builds up in the respiratory tract during infection.
The team examined each sample for bits of viral genetic material called RNA to determine how much of the virus was present at different stages of the disease.
The researchers found that they could grow the virus from the throat, nose and sputum samples gathered early in the course of illness, but after Day eight, samples taken from patients with mild cases did not yield any viral growth.
This indicated that those patients had become less infectious.
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It is worth noting they still tested positive for the virus, however.
The finding supports claims coming out of China suggesting that the virus can persist in the body for at least two weeks after COVID-19 symptoms clear up.
According to the study researchers, the finding draws up a distinction between other coronavirus infections.
“This is in stark contrast to SARS,” a related disease caused by a different coronavirus, the authors noted.
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In SARS patients, viral shedding peaked about seven to 10 days into the illness, as the infection spread from the upper respiratory tract into deep lung tissue.
In seven patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus, “peak concentrations were reached before Day five and were more than 1,000 times higher” than those seen in SARS patients, the authors noted.
What implications do these findings have for public health advice?
“Based on the present findings, early discharge with ensuing home isolation could be chosen for patients who are beyond Day 10 of symptoms,” provided that swab samples from their throat contain fewer than 100,000 copies of viral genetic material per millilitre, the authors wrote.
Commenting on the research, Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told Stat News: “This is a very important contribution to understanding both the natural history of COVID-19 clinical disease as well as the public health implications of viral shedding.”
What are the mild symptoms of COVID-19?
According to the NHS, the main mild symptoms are a high temperature and a new, continuous cough.
As the health site explains, a high temperature means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back.
A new, continuous cough means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours.
According to the government, anyone displaying these symptoms should not leave their home.
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