Clinical, immunological and virological characterization of COVID-19 patients that test re-positive for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR

Background COVID-19 pandemic is underway. Some COVID-19 cases re-tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA after discharge raising the public concern on their infectivity. Characterization of re-positive cases are urgently needed for designing intervention strategies. Methods Clinical data were obtained through Guangdong COVID-19 surveillance network. Neutralization antibody titre was determined using a microneutralization assay. Potential infectivity of clinical samples was evaluated after the cell inoculation. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected using three different RT-PCR kits and multiplex PCR with nanopore sequencing. Results Among 619 discharged COVID-19 cases, 87 were re-tested as SARS-CoV-2 positive in circumstance of social isolation. All re-positive cases had mild or moderate symptoms in initial diagnosis and a younger age distribution (mean, 30.4). Re-positive cases (n=59) exhibited similar neutralization antibodies (NAbs) titre distributions to other COVID-19 cases (n=150) parallel-tested in this study. No infective viral strain could be obtained by culture and none full-length viral genomes could be sequenced for all re-positive cases. Conclusions Re-positive SARS-CoV-2 was not caused by the secondary infection and was identified in around 14% of discharged cases. A robust Nabs response and a potential virus genome degradation were detected from nearly all re-positive cases suggesting a lower transmission risk, especially through a respiratory route.

Authors: Jing Lu, Jinju Peng, (...), Changwen Ke