Understanding Viral Shedding of SARS-CoV-2: Review of Current Literature

Lauren Fontana, Angela Holly Villamagna, Monica K. Sikka, Jessina C. McGregor

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4 Scopus citations


Objective: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 has significant implications for hospital infection prevention and control, discharge management, and public health. We reviewed available literature to reach an evidenced-based consensus on the expected duration of viral shedding. Design: We queried four scholarly repositories/search engines for studies reporting SARS-CoV-2 viral shedding dynamics by PCR and/or culture available through September 8, 2020. We calculated the pooled median duration of viral RNA shedding from respiratory and fecal sources. Results: Seventy-seven studies on SARS-CoV-2 were included. All studies reported PCR-based testing and 12 also included viral culture data. The overall pooled median duration of RNA shedding from respiratory sources was 18.4 days (95% CI: 15.5 days - 21.3 days; I2=98.87%, p<0.01) among 28 studies. When stratified by disease severity, the pooled median duration of viral RNA shedding from respiratory sources was 19.8 days (95% CI: 16.2 days - 23.5 days; I2=96.42%, p<0.01) among severely ill patients and 17.2 days (95% CI: 14.0 days - 20.5 days; I2=95.64%, p<0.01) in mild/moderate illness. Viral RNA was detected up to 92 days after symptom onset. Viable virus was isolated by culture from -6 days to 20 days relative to symptom onset. Conclusions: SARS-COV-2 RNA shedding can be prolonged, yet high heterogeneity exists. Detection of viral RNA may not correlate with infectivity since available viral culture data suggests shorter durations of shedding of viable virus. Additional data is needed to determine the duration of shedding of viable virus and the implications for risk of transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInfection Control and Hospital Epidemiology
StateAccepted/In press - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. All rights reserved.

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  • Journal Article

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