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Albany Medical Center Research Finds COVID Most Contagious In Early Days

COVID-19 Diagram
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Research from Albany Medical Center has shed new light on the infectiousness of COVID-19 that could shorten hospital stays for patients.

Researchers at Albany Medical College and Albany Medical Center Hospital found that patients with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are infectious only during the initial onset of symptoms.

One of the study’s lead authors, Dr. Dennis Metzger, professor and chair of the Department of Immunology and Microbial Disease, says it focused on patients between 55 and 92 years old, hospitalized at Albany Med.

"We tested them at various times after they were admitted to the hospital. And their swabs, their nasal swabs showed actual infectious virus only within the first 12 days, but some of these patients remain positive for the virus by PCR for up to 60 days, up to two months. And because of that, because they were positive by the PCR test, they couldn't be released from the hospital, they showed no symptoms, I would assume they were more than ready to go home. But because they remain PCR positive, they couldn't be released."

Albany Med President and CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna says it may be a while before the research impacts health care protocols.

"There was a time when hospitals were not allowed to discharge people from the hospital setting, back to what we call a congregate living facility, when they tested positive, because there was an Executive Order. That Executive Order has been lifted. However, the skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes etc., are still unwilling to take those patients back, despite the literature and what we've shown in this study. So we're working hard to try to get them to understand that what we're looking to do is still safe, and something that is the right thing to do for the patients. Therefore, Dave, as of today, those patients are still waiting in hospital beds at Albany Med and other hospitals until their tests are negative. And we're hoping and we believe that this study published will actually begin to change that."

Metzger says standard diagnostic tests don't distinguish between active virus and other viral genomic fragments that no longer contain active virus. He sees the study eventually helping put an end to overcrowding at medical facilities.

"Nobody wants to be stuck in the hospital for two months, when you don't need to. It's uncomfortable for the patient. It's expensive, it takes up hospital beds. And so if we can be a little bit smarter in how we're handling this type of situation that that would help a lot, in many areas."

The study, published in the August 2021 issue of the Journal of Clinical Virology, was done using patients with the original COVID-19 virus, not the Delta variant, but researchers say the results would be applicable to Delta and other variants. Here's a link to the study.

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