The repeated COVID-19 episodes reported in a man from Thrissur is posing a diagnostic challenge for health officials.
Savio Joseph, 38, from Ponnukkara, who was working in Muscat, has contracted the infection thrice. Though he does not have documents to prove the first bout while in Muscat, the second and third episodes happened in Thrissur.
“I showed symptoms in Muscat during the end of February. I contracted an infection from a friend, who had travel history to China. He was given treatment for pneumonia. After three weeks, I too developed similar symptoms. I had fever, cough, throat and chest pain, and breathlessness. However, the hospital did not identify it as COVID-19,” says Savio.
Soon, the majority of workers in Savio’s company contracted the pandemic, five deaths were also reported.
Savio returned to Kerala on June 28. While in quarantine, he appeared for COVID-19 test on July 18, which turned positive.
He was discharged from Thrissur Medical College Hospital on August 1 after he tested negative in an antigen test. But when difficulty in breathing and chest pain persisted, he appeared for a test again on September 1, which turned positive.
Discharged from hospital once again, Savio as well as health officials are clueless whether it is a case of relapse or prolonged viral shedding. Viral shedding occurs when a virus replicates in the body and is released into the environment.
Though health officials insist that it is the first such case in the State, Savio says there was a patient next to him at the hospital who claimed he had tested positive for a second time.
District Medical Officer K.J. Reena says it is the first such case reported here. “We cannot say whether it was a case of relapse or retained infection. Even a dead virus can be detected in a RT-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction test). But it is not infectious. We are yet to study post-COVID complications,” she says.
“Remnants of the virus can exist in the body for more than 60 days,” says M.A. Andrews, Principal, Thrissur Medical College Hospital. “No test, whether antigen test or RT-PCR, is foolproof. There can be 30-70% error in tests,” he says.