Why do some people repeatedly test Covid-19 positive on an RT-PCR test?

If you or someone you know has been testing positive continually on an RT-PCR, here’s the real reason why!
covid 19 cases
COVID-19 cases are increasing exponentially, be careful! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Geetika Sachdev Updated: 30 Oct 2023, 11:10 am IST
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) data reveals that the Covid-19 virus has infected over 82 million people and killed more than 1.8 million around the globe. Although the virus has become a part of our lives today, the very thought of getting infected by all kinds of variants makes us shiver and shudder. How do you diagnose the infection? Of course, an RT-PCT test, which helps detect genetic material from a specific organism. There’s no denying that it is accurate and reliable; but it cannot differentiate between a live or transmissible virus and dead virus. Hence, positive results need to be interpreted by an expert after careful history and examination. But what if certain people continue to test positive every now and then?

One such case has emerged in Turkey, where a man has tested positive for Covid-19 for 14 months straight! Aged 56, Muzzafer Kayasan, was first diagnosed with the virus on December 19, 2020, and post-diagnosis has tested positive 78 times! Kayasan, who also has leukemia, has spent nine months in hospital and five months confined to his home in Istanbul.

testing positive repeatedly on RT-PCR
Covid-19 may leave a long-term impact, whether it is mild or not. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Dr Kirti Sabnis, Infectious Disease Specialist, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan and Mulund, tells HealthShots, “The incubation time for Covid-19 ranges from 1-14 days, most commonly around five days. If you’ve tested positive for coronavirus, you usually have to self-isolate for 10 days. You may be able to leave self-isolation after seven days, if certain conditions are met. The recurrent RT-PCR positivity is linked to poor clearance of virus by the body, due to a weak immune system.”

But why do some patients continue to test positive?

A significant reason why Kayasan has still been testing positive is because of his compromised immune system. The good news is that the virus might not be in a transmissible mode, where it can infect others.

“He may take a longer time to recover as compared to other patients, because his immune system will take a while to be fully effective. That’s because he has leukemia, and there’s also his age factor,” she adds.

Also, read: Holistic diabetes care at home: Here’s how to manage the condition during Covid-19

Dr Merlin Moni, Clinical Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases
Amrita Hospital, shares with Health Shots,”When we do the RT-PCR, we are checking for the viral RNA, so what happens is that when the patient gets symptomatic and the virus multiplies and once the person gets better, the quantity of genetic material declines. One situation is when the virus becomes dead, but some remnants are still in the throat, nose, and mouth. Research shows that 40 percent of people can have RNA positivity. In the second case, the virus can multiply at a slow rate; this can happen in those who are older or those who have low immunity.”

testing positive repeatedly on RT-PCR
Stay safe from Covid-19 by taking all the precautions. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Should you be worried about Covid-19 transmissibility?

Once the CT value goes above 30, the transmissibility is very low, because the viral load is low. There is no need to quarantine, but those around this person who have low immunity must practice social distance, says Dr Merlin.

Patients with prolonged RT-PCR positivity, if asymptomatic, can be offered the Covid-19 vaccine, depending upon their immunity status and other drug administration.

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About the Author

An independent writer and journalist, Geetika loves sharp and fresh humour, just like her coffee! If not writing, you'll find her cafe-hopping and raiding the best book stores in town. ...Read More

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