For the great majority of patients with Covid-19, the risk of shedding viable SARS-CoV2 diminishes considerably as the time from onset of symptoms nears 10 days or more, with the risk higher among those who have severe (eg, sp02 <94%) or critical disease (eg, in need of ICU care) or who are immunocompromised. 1-4
For patients with mild-moderate illness who are not immunocompromised, the CDC recommends isolation for “at least 10 days” from onset of symptoms as long as at least 24 hours have passed since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and symptoms (eg, cough, shortness of breath) have improved. For patients with severe to critical illness or who are severely immunocompromised, “at least 10 days” and up to 20 days since onset of symptoms—with qualifications as above— is recommended. 1
A 2021 meta-analysis found that although SARS-CoV-2 RNA shedding in respiratory and stool samples may be prolonged, duration of viable virus was relatively short with no study detecting live virus beyond day 9 of illness.2
In contrast, another study involving patients with severe or critical illness (23% immunocompromised, 2/3 on mechanical ventilation) found that the median time of infectious virus shedding was 8 days (range 0-20) and concluded that detection of infectious virus was common after 8 days or more since onset of symptoms; the probability of isolating infectious SARS-CoV-2 was ≤5% when the duration of symptoms was 15.2 days (95% CI 13.4-17.2). In the same study, a single patient had infectious particles for up to 20 days following onset of symptoms. 3
The take home point is that although 10 days of isolation since onset of symptoms should be sufficient for mild to moderate Covid-19, for those with severe or critical disease or immunocompromised state, a longer duration up to 20 days may be needed. The setting and status of the potential contacts (eg, an immunocompromised person in household setting) should also be considered in our decision making. 4
Bonus Pearl: Did you know that infectious particles are unlikely to be isolated from respiratory tract samples once patients develop a serum neutralizing antibody titer of at least 1:80, potentially useful information in deciding when a patient may come off isolation? 3
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- Discontinuation of transmission-based precautions and disposition of patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection in healthcare settings. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-hospitalized-patients.html#definitions. Accessed March 24, 2021
- Cevik M, Tate M, Lloyd O, et al. Sars-Cov-2, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV viral load dynamics, duration of viral shedding, and infectiousness: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Microbe 2021;2:e13-22. https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lanmic/PIIS2666-5247(20)30172-5.pdf
- Van Kampen JJA, van de Vijver DAMC, Fraaij PLA, et al. Duration and key determinants of infectious virus shedding in hospitalized patients with coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19). Nature Communications 2021;12:267. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20568-4
- Kadire SR, Fabre V, Wenzel RP. Doctor, how long should I isolate? NEJM, March 2021 https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMclde2100910?articleTools=true
Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliate healthcare centers. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!