Ever since the coronavirus-induced pandemic hit the world, life has changed drastically for billions of people. After the various rounds of coronavirus lockdowns, switchovers to work from home setups, and social distancing protocols, life is slowly limping back to normalcy. Even after the arrival and rollout of various COVID-19 vaccines, the virus continues to infect and re-infect people across the globe. Based on their immunity, people may or may not get re-infected. The pattern can be very erratic. Some people develop immunity after the first infection while others may get re-infected. Some victims cope with long-lasting COVID owing to poor immunity as well. However, of late researchers have found the longest-lasting instance of infection in a person.
A team of UK researchers has come across the longest COVID infection victim. The man, who succumbed to the virus, had COVID for a stretch of 505 days continuously. Earlier, the person with the longest documented instance of the virus had the infection lasting for a period of 335 days. They worked with 9 victims with recent organ transplants or other ailments. The victims had 73 days of COVID infection length on average. The patients were tested for close to 2 years, starting in March 2020. Five of these 9 victims managed to survive the infection. Not all of them had received the vaccines as well.
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The study findings were given to the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. Five of the victims developed a mutation of the virus. Some of them also developed multiple mutations.
A study author, Dr. Luke Blagdon Snell said: “Some of these variants transmit more easily between people, cause more severe disease, or make the vaccines less effective. One theory is that these viral variants evolve in individuals whose immune systems are weakened from illness or medical treatments like chemotherapy, who can have persistent infection with SARS-CoV-2. We wanted to investigate which mutations arise, and if variants evolve, in these people with persistent infection.” (Open Access Government).
Research into ‘long COVID’
A UK patient with a very poor immune system was afflicted with the virus for 505 days. While they are saying this is the longest COVID case, one can never be too sure. It is possible that many others who had COVID for long periods just did not get tested. The study covered many aspects like which mutations are found the most and how long infected people act as carriers of mutations or not. They also pointed out that long COVID is not the same as persistent COVID.
Snell said: “In long COVID, it’s generally assumed the virus has been cleared from your body but the symptoms persist. With persistent infection, it represents ongoing, active replication of the virus. We do need to be mindful that there are some people who are more susceptible to these problems like persistent infection and severe disease.” (Tribune India).
Genetic sequencing reveals the virus mutates quite fast. The researchers think more advanced treatments will be devised to aid people to cope with persistent infections better. Dr. Snell suggested that the study’s findings indicate mutations seen in the variants of concern exist in the immunocompromised patients.
Apart from the trends shown in low immunity patients of COVID, the study highlighted the possibility of occult COVID-19 infection. It happens when a person tests negative in PCR tests even though he or she is infected. One of the victims studied got infected with the Alpha variant of COVID in 2021 and he tested negative later many times. Then, the patient showed symptoms again after a long time. The reality is the virus was lurking in his body and was not getting detected.