Story at a glance
- Researchers say the COVID-19 tests detected dead fragments of the virus in recovered patients.
- They said there’s little reason to believe the reports are reinfections or reactivations.
- Reports of patients testing positive after recovery have come out of China, Japan, South Korea and Italy.
Researchers in South Korea say reports of recovered coronavirus patients testing positive for COVID-19 for a second time are due to testing errors and not reinfection.
South Korea’s infectious disease experts said Thursday that dead virus fragments picked up by COVID-19 tests likely caused more than 260 people in the country to test positive again for the coronavirus, days, and sometimes weeks, after making full recoveries, according to The Korea Herald.
Oh Myoung-don, a professor of medicine and the head of Seoul National University Hospital’s division of infectious diseases, said researchers found little reason to believe such cases could be COVID-19 reinfections or reactivations.
He explained that PCR tests, or polymerase chain reaction tests, used to diagnose COVID-19 are not able to distinguish between live traces of the virus and the harmless dead fragments that remain after a patient has recovered.
“The tests detected the ribonucleic acid of the dead virus,” Oh said Thursday according to The Korea Herald.
Similar reports of people testing positive again have come out of China, Japan and Italy, with some patients testing positive again as much as 70 days after being cleared.
The news out of South Korea is promising, as reinfections would have made efforts to contain the highly transmissible virus that has infected more than 3 million people worldwide much more daunting.
Health experts have previously noted the likelihood of testing errors as the explanation for recovered patients testing positive.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last month that because the virus doesn’t seem to be mutating much, it’s unlikely people will become reinfected.
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“Generally we know with infections like this, that at least for a reasonable period of time, you’re going to have antibodies that are going to be protective,” Fauci told the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“If we get infected in February and March and recover, next September, October, that person who’s infected — I believe — is going to be protected,” he added.
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