Background: Prolonged viral RNA detection in respiratory samples from patients with COVID-19 has been described, but the clinical relevance remains unclear. We studied the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 on a group and individual level in intubated ICU patients.
Methods: In a cohort of 86 patients, we analysed SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR results on nasopharyngeal and sputum samples (obtained as part of clinical care twice a week) according to time after intubation. Subsequently, we performed survival analyses.
Results: 870 samples were tested by RT-PCR. Overall viral load was highest in the first week (median nasopharynx 3.5. IQR 1.5-4.3; median sputum 4.3. IQR 3.3-5.6) and decreased over time. In 20% of patients a relapsing pattern was observed. Nasopharyngeal and sputum PCR status on day 14 was not significantly associated with survival up to day 60 in this small cohort.
Conclusion: In general SARS-CoV-2 RNA levels in respiratory samples in patients with severe COVID-19 decease alter the first week after intubation, but individual SARS-CoV-2 RNA levels can show a relapsing pattern. Larger studies are needed to address the association of clearance of SARS-CoV-2 RNA from respiratory samples with survival, because we observed a trend towards better survival in patients with early clearance from sputum. (C) 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc.