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IS SARS-COV-2 A LATENT VIRUS WHICH CAN RECUR?

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Introduction

Ever since cases of ‘reinfection’ — people who had tested negative for COVID-19 testing positive again after a while — emerged the question of latency of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is being hotly debated.

What is a latent viral infection?

  • A latent viral infection is an infection that is inactive or dormant and does not replicate within the host.
  • It however possesses the capacity to be reactivated at some point, causing a flare-up of the disease much later.
  • As opposed to active infections, where a virus is actively replicating and potentially causing symptoms, latent (or persistent; but not chronic) infections are essentially static which last the life of the host and occur when the primary infection is not cleared by the adaptive immune response.
  • Latent viral infections can be reactivated into a lytic form (the replication of a viral genome).
  • The ability to move back and forth from latent to lytic infections helps the virus spread from infected individuals to uninfected individuals.

Chronic and Acute

  • Viruses fall into two broad categories: chronic and acute; while a chronic virus will infect its host for extended periods of time, often through the lifetime of the host.
  • An acute infecting virus, such as influenza and rotavirus, is cleared from the body after a few days or weeks.
  • The ability of chronic virus to enter the latent stage and reactivate into the lytic stage could be a strategy to promote its survival.

Does SARS-CoV-2 go into latency?

  • None of the observations conclusively proves a second infection. In each one of these cases, there is sufficient reason to suspect that it is one infection, with negative results in between.
  • While the RT- PCR [reverse transcription/polymerase chain reaction] tests are considered to be the gold standard for testing, all tests are not 100% accurate. False positives and false negative results are expected to occur.
  • It’s entirely possible to have detectable, then non-detectable, and then detectable SARS-CoV-2 virus because of the limit of detection of our current testing.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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