Can positive test for COVID-19 turn negative few days later?

On March 29, Nigerians woke up to the news that the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the University College Hospital (UCH), Jesse Otegbayo, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Declaring this in a statement he personally signed, Mr Otegbayo said his samples were taken after he came in contact with someone who presented what appeared to be symptoms of COVID-19.

The result returned positive.

However, barely four days after this declaration, the hospital announced that a new test carried out on him (CMD) came out negative.

“I have the pleasure to announce that the repeat test of the UCH CMD, Professor Jesse Abiodun Otegbayo has returned negative,” the Public Relations Officer of the hospital, Toye Akinrinlola, said.

The news of the result returning as negative has left Nigerians wondering if the COVID-19 virus leaves the body system that quickly.

Nothing is impossible

A renowned virologist, Oyewale Tomori, said it is possible for a positive case to become negative without necessarily undergoing treatment.

He also said the virus can leave a body with strong immunity.

”You want to look at the scenario of when he got infected. At what stage of the disease were test one and test two done?

“The laboratory test also contributes to this. Was the right sample taken? Was it well stored? Was it well delivered?

“The way your body will clear a virus is different from the way my body will clear a virus, even without treatment. So if your immunity is that strong, it can clear anything,” he said.

Mr Tomori, a professor and former regional virologist for the World Health Organisation, also said some people are not showing any symptoms of the virus yet the laboratory results shows they are positive.

“So we have to take each case by its own merit,” he said.

Henry Ewunonu, a pathologist, said the negative result means the virus has been cleared from the body.

This he said is possible due to the body immunity of the carrier.

“The immunity might have cleared out the COVID-19 virus in his system within that short period of time. There are people with such super immunity,” he said.

He also said there might have been a case of ‘false positive’ because of either human or machine error.

“At the second point of testing he might have had a false negative. Meaning he might still be having the virus but due to human error, the result came out negative.

“The last possibility is the phase of the infection when he was tested. Was he in the recovery stage already?.

“The COVID-19 virus is still new so for now all facts are imagined,” he said.

How this works

Olaide Shuaib, a Medical Laboratory Scientist explains how the COVID-19 virus detection and treatment works.

”When a person has a viral infection, the severity of the infection has to do with the mode of entry, the viral load, the replication and the receptor.

”The receptor is what the virus will bind unto. If there is no receptor for the infection, then the person won’t be down with the viral infection, ” he said.

Mr Shuaib explained what might have happened in the UCH chief’s case.

”COVID-19 has 45 circles before it could be detected in the system.

“The circle is when the positive and negative situation can be ascertained. This varies depending on the viral load in the body system.

“If a person has CT of 20, that means the viral load is much in the system of the carrier. When this is the case, it will take at least 15 days before treatment will be able to cater for the infection.

“If the person has CT of 45 that means the viral load in the body system is lower. It will just take a few days of treatment to cater for the infection.

“This is the case of the CMD, he doesn’t have many viruses in his body system. That was why the treatment was able to cater for the infection in just four days, ” he said.

More medical scientists speak

Mike Ogirima, a Professor of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery said it is possible for a positive case to become negative once the virus leaves the body.

“It is possible, depending on the period you caught him to be positive before. It is a neurological reaction and if the virus is no more in the system, of course, you may not be able to find the trace of the antigen in the system.

“But if you look for the antibody which is the principle neurologists use for vaccine production, the antibody will be there. But he is negative, he can’t infect any other person,” he said.

An oncologist, Oseremen Shadrach, said scientifically when a positive case suddenly becomes negative, it means that the antigen you were looking for is no longer there.

”It means the person has developed antibodies. So in this case, the person has successfully mounted a reaction against the antigen which is against the offending agents.

”So I don’t know the extent to which the test is positive or negative, ” he said.

Chief Medical Director

Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES in an interview, the UCH spokesperson, Mr Akinrinlola said Mr Otegbayo has not exhibited any symptoms of Covid-19 till date.

He, however, did not disclose if the CMD underwent treatment after the result came out positive.

”He observed the prescribed self-quarantine. He complied with all the safety guidelines given by the World Health Organization and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

”It should be noted he didn’t exhibit any symptoms of COVID 19 and he still hasn’t exhibited any, ” he said.

He said, on Friday, that the CMD will do the final test within 72 hours to be double sure.

(Premium Times)