How long does the coronavirus last inside the body?chevron-down

Photograph by Sefa Karacan, Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Researchers are narrowing down how long the virus persists inside the body and whether people can be quickly re-infected.

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Friday, March 13, was an unlucky day for Fiona Lowenstein. Over the weekend, the 26-year-old spiked a fever, then she started coughing, and soon she was so short of breath she had trouble speaking. At the hospital, Lowenstein tested positive for COVID-19. She was admitted and put on supplemental oxygen. After two days, she improved enough to go home—but her symptoms didn’t stop there.

She started to have intense diarrhea, lost her sense of smell, and was plagued by a sore throat and hives. Most troubling, about a month after her initial symptoms, she developed intense fatigue and severe headaches. Lowenstein started scrambling her words and struggled to focus, forgetting what she meant to say in the middle of speaking.

“It felt like I’d just been hit by a truck,” she says. “I had days where I would manage to do work, and then the next day I’d not feel like getting out of bed.”

Scientists are still trying to understand why some COVID-19 patients like Lowenstein are having these kinds of relapses—sometimes weeks or months after they first got sick.

It’s possible that long-term patients are struggling because some of the coronavirus sticks around in their tissues. Researchers are now figuring out how long the germ stays alive inside the body, a situation known as viral persistence. That may be different from the length of time that someone who had COVID-19 can shed viral fragments, which can sometimes cause false positives on diagnostic tests.

It’s important to understand COVID-19...

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