Elon Answers: How long do patients remain contagious?

This is part of a series of articles featuring responses by Elon University faculty members to questions about the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) submitted by Alamance County community members.

If I get COVID-19 and then recover, is it still possible for me to infect others with the virus? In other words, would I remain contagious even after I recover from the disease?

Rainey Parker, adjunct assistant professor of chemistry

You might. People showing symptoms of COVID-19 are clearly contagious. These individuals actively shed virus in their respiratory droplets. Symptoms normally last for eight days, but even after that about half of patients continue to shed virus for up to eight days following the end of symptoms.

If you therefore isolate yourself for eight days following the end of your symptoms, you probably are no longer contagious. Occasionally a cough lingers for several weeks even after the disease ends; if that happens, your self-isolation can likely end eight days after your fever ends and following your doctor’s advice.

Not many detailed scientific studies have been performed yet, so our understanding of COVID-19 is likely to improve. For example, scientists are still working to understand why some patients remain contagious longer than others.

Rainey Parker is an adjunct assistant professor of chemistry at Elon University. Reach him at rparker16@elon.edu.

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To submit a question to our team of scientists, visit tinyurl.com/eloncovid19, email us at eloncovid19@gmail.com, or use social media with hashtag #eloncovid19. Answers will be published as available in the Times-News, at www.thetimesnews.com, and on Today at Elon.