Story at a glance

  • South Korea health officials say the virus may have been reactivated rather than patients becoming reinfected.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is investigating the incidents.
  • It’s not clear why the patients tested positive after testing negative.

South Korea reported Monday that at least 116 people who were believed to have recovered from the novel coronavirus have tested positive for the virus again, according to Reuters

South Korea said last week that dozens of patients who had been cleared of COVID-19 and were being prepared for discharge tested positive. Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) has said rather than being reinfected, patients may be suffering from a “reactivated” coronavirus, Reuters reports. 


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“While we are putting more weight on reactivation as the possible cause, we are conducting a comprehensive study on this,” Eun-kyeong said last week. “There have been many cases when a patient during treatment will test negative one day and positive another.”

Other health experts note the possibility of testing errors and releasing patients from hospitals too early as more likely to be the cause of recovered patients testing positive again.

South Korea reported only 25 new COVID-19 cases Monday. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed Saturday it is investigating such incidents in response to the reports out of South Korea. 

“We are aware of these reports of individuals who have tested negative for COVID-19 using PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing and then after some days testing positive again,” the WHO told The Hill

“We are closely liaising with our clinical experts and working hard to get more information on those individual cases. It is important to make sure that when samples are collected for testing on suspected patients, procedures are followed properly,” the WHO said.  

Similar reports have come out of China, where the virus emerged late last year. Japan in February reported a woman tested positive for the coronavirus a second time. 


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Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, said last week people who recover from COVID-19 will likely be immune if a second wave were to hit the U.S. in fall. 

“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 last week.

“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. 

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 1.8 million people worldwide and killed more than 116,000.


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Published on Apr 13, 2020