Long COVID? Study Says Coronavirus Stays In Body For Months, Spreads Beyond Airway

SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, can spread past the airway and stay in the body for months, a study has shown

Shubhangi Shah
Written by: Shubhangi ShahUpdated at: Dec 28, 2021 13:11 IST
Long COVID? Study Says Coronavirus Stays In Body For Months, Spreads Beyond Airway

A mild case of COVID-19 takes about a week or two to recover, says Johns Hopkins University. If you suffer from a severe infection, it could take about six weeks or more for the same. This is the average time taken for recovery. However, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can stay in your body for months after infection. Not only that, it can spread way beyond the airway, a study undertaken at the US National Institutes of Health (US NIH) has shown. The implication? The findings can help us understand why some people, who call themselves ‘long haulers’, suffer from what is called ‘long COVID’, way beyond the period past recovery.

About The Study

The study was undertaken at the US NIH, Bethesda, Maryland. 

  • Notably, the analyses were done on fatal COVID cases.
  • Tissue samples were taken following autopsies of 44 people who died of COVID during the initial disease outbreak in the US.
  • The tissues collection was generally done within a day following the autopsy.
  • Extensive sampling and analysis of the tissues were undertaken.
  • The researchers have called it the most comprehensive analysis of the novel coronavirus’ spread and persistence in the body, which goes beyond the airway.

The research is currently under review for publishing in the journal Nature.

Also read: Home COVID-19 Testing Kits: Know Types, How To Use And Accuracy

Study Findings

Novel coronavirus causes COVID-19

(Photo Credit: Pixabay)

The analysis revealed that the novel coronavirus can persist in the body for months and that it can spread way beyond the airway.

  • SARS-CoV-2, more commonly known as the novel coronavirus, can replicate beyond the airway, the study showed.
  • It can spread throughout the body, including the brain.
  • The researchers found the persistence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in several body parts, including the brain, for as long as 230 days after the onset of the initial symptoms.
  • Although the highest burden of the novel coronavirus was seen in the airway and the lungs, the researchers noted, SARS-CoV-2 can spread way past that, even during the early infection, and can infect cells in organs including the brain, the researchers added.
  • The viral load beyond the respiratory tract isn’t clear, and so is the time is taken for viral clearance, wrote Daniel Chertow and his colleagues. Chertow heads the NIH’s emerging pathogens section.
  • The researchers further postulated that the early viremic phase might be the period when the pulmonary system may get infected. It’s the period when the virus is present in the bloodstream. It might also be the period when the virus is seeded throughout the body, the researchers further postulated. 

What Does The Study Hint At?

COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, or the novel coronavirus

(Photo Credit: Pixabay)

The study undertaken at the US NIH might help understand why some people, often those with a mild infection, suffer from long COVID and that the symptoms are experienced throughout the body and not just around the respiratory system. 

For the uninitiated, long COVID refers to a situation when symptoms persist way past recovery. Here are some of the symptoms of long COVID that people experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Issues with the memory
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Although giving a glimpse into the phenomenon of long COVID, one must be cautious while reading through the study. This is because the analysis was based on fatal COVID cases, and not on those suffering from long COVID. Also, if SARS-CoV-2 spreads beyond lungs is contested, with some studies hinting for it, while others have found the opposite results, a leading media website reported. However, one thing this study hints at is the need to stay cautious given the virus was found beyond the airway. Hence, wear your mask when in public, practice social distancing, get vaccinated, and take care of your overall health. By doing these, you can steer clear, to some extent, from contracting the novel coronavirus.

Photo Credit: Pixabay