Coronavirus may 'reactivate' in cured patients, Korean health authority says

A man speaks to a nurse during at a testing booth outside Yangji hospital in Seoul on March 17, 2020.
A man speaks to a nurse during at a testing booth outside Yangji hospital in Seoul on March 17, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - The coronavirus may be "reactivating" in people who have been cured of the illness, according to Korea's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

About 51 patients classed as having been cured in South Korea have tested positive again, the KCDC said in a briefing. Rather than being infected again, the virus may have been reactivated in these people, given they tested positive again shortly after being released from quarantine, said Mr Jeong Eun-kyeong, director-general of the KCDC.

"While we are putting more weight on reactivation as the possible cause, we are conducting a comprehensive study on this," Mr Jeong said. "There have been many cases when a patient during treatment will test negative one day and positive another." A patient is deemed fully recovered when two tests conducted with a 24-hour interval show negative results.

The KCDC will conduct an epidemiological probe into the cases, he said.

South Korea was one of the earliest countries to see a large-scale coronavirus outbreak, but the country has recorded 200 deaths and a falling new case tally since peaking at 1,189 on Feb 29. One of the world's most expansive testing programmes and a tech-driven approach to tracing infections has helped the country contain its epidemic without lockdowns or shuttering businesses.

South Korea reported 39 new cases on Thursday (April 9) for a total of 10,423.

Fear of re-infection in recovered patients is also growing in China, where the virus first emerged last December, after reports that some tested positive again - and even died from the disease - after supposedly recovering and leaving hospital. There's little understanding of why this happens, although some believe that the problem may lie in inconsistencies in test results.

Epidemiologists around the world are in a race to find out more about the virus that causes Covid-19. The pathogen's rapid global spread has recently seen the focus shift to patients who contract the virus but display few or atypical symptoms. South Korea has been at the forefront of tracking these cases, which are causing particular concern in China, where the epidemic is showing signs of coming under control.