HK Study Shows Coronavirus Most Contagious in the First Week When Carrier Develops Symptoms

It is common knowledge by now that the one thing that has been clouding everyone’s mind is the COVID-19 outbreak.

After all, more than 722,080 people have been infected with the virus worldwide, and more than 33,970 people have died from it. Furthermore, businesses have been affected so badly because everyone is too scared to leave their homes for fear that they will be infected by others.

And you might want to listen up for this because according to a Hong Kong study that has just been released, it seems that COVID-19 is the most contagious in the first week the carrier develops symptoms.

This is probably also why the infection has spread so rapidly.

Image: Giphy

HK Study Shows Coronavirus Most Contagious in the First Week When Carrier Develops Symptoms

The researchers came up with this conclusion after analysing saliva samples obtained from 23 COVID-19 patients aged between 35 and 75 at two hospitals in Hong Kong.

The paper which was published in The Lancet medical journal last Monday, 23 March, revealed that the viral load in the patients was the highest during the first week after they themselves developed symptoms, and it started to drop afterwards.

Mr Kelvin To Kai-wang, clinical associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s microbiology department and a co-author of the paper, explained, “The high viral load within the first week of illness suggests that the virus can be transmitted from one person to another easily before the patient is hospitalised.”

Now you know why it’s important for anyone with symptoms to isolate themselves? And why it’s important to practise social distancing?

The researchers also found that the virus tended to infect older patients more often than younger ones, and in some cases, the virus could stay in the body for up to a month.

Apparently, there was a case where COVID-19 was only discovered 25 days after the patient first developed symptoms.

Staying In Isolation

Mr To revealed, “One-third of our patients had viral shedding for 20 days or more.” He also added that this is one of the reasons why patients may have to stay in isolation wards for a longer period of time for their safety, as well as the public.

But it must be noted that just because a patient has prolonged viral shedding, it does not mean that the patient will be infectious for a long time.

Why?

Because through the test, only the viral genome – the viral nucleic acid – was detected. In other words, no live virus was detected in their bodies.

Of course, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

“But from an infection control point of view, we need to assume that anyone with viral nucleic acid detected is infectious [and isolate patients long enough to reduce risks. But] there may not be enough isolation wards if there are a large number of new patients,” Mr To explained.

In mainland China, after patients are discharged from the hospital, they are required to stay in isolation centres for two weeks, and then stay at home for another two weeks. This is probably also because there were cases of patients who have recovered testing positive for the virus again.

However, in Hong Kong, patients who have been discharged do not need to self-isolate. The only measure that is done is medical staff following up on them to monitor their progress of recovery.

Collection Of Saliva Sample

The researchers also believe that it might be safer if patients collected their own saliva samples instead of having medical workers conduct the standard throat and nasal swabs.

The study said, “Collection of nasopharyngeal or throat swab specimens can induce coughing and sneezing, which generates aerosol and is a potential health hazard for healthcare workers.”

As such, for the safety of everyone, it is probably best that the patient did it on their own. And in case they don’t know how to conduct the test, they can simply be shown a video on how to do it so that no mistakes will be made.

Lesson To Be Learned

From this study, it clearly highlights the importance of why governments all around the world are asking their people to practise social distancing.


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Be socially responsible because you will never know if you may be a hidden carrier. Just because you don’t develop symptoms, doesn’t mean that you don’t have the infection.

Of course, I’m not saying that everyone should panic and get yourself tested. But it is crucial for us to comply with the restrictions as they’re imposed for our safety. So do yourself and the rest of the world a favour, be socially responsible.

Image: Giphy

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