Detectable Duration of Viable SARS-CoV-2, Total and Subgenomic SARS-CoV-2 RNA in Noncritically Ill COVID-19 Patients: a Prospective Cohort Study

Angsana Phuphuakrat, Ekawat Pasomsub, Sirawat Srichatrapimuk, Suppachok Kirdlarp, Ampa Suksatu, Chanya Srisaowakarn, Suwimon Manopwisedjaroen, Natali Ludowyke, Priyo Budi Purwono, Thongkoon Priengprom, Artit Wongsa, Ammarin Thakkinstian, Suradej Hongeng, Kumthorn Malathum, Arunee Thitithanyanont, Boonrat Tassaneetrithep

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Determination of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infectivity is important in guiding the infection control and differentiating between reinfection and persistent viral RNA. Although viral culture is the gold standard to determine viral infectivity, the method is not practical. We studied the kinetics of SARS-CoV-2 total RNAs and subgenomic RNAs (sgRNAs) and their potential role as surrogate markers of viral infectivity. The kinetics of SARS-CoV-2 sgRNAs compared to those of the culture and total RNA shedding in a prospective cohort of patients diagnosed with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) were investigated. A total of 260 nasopharyngeal swabs from 36 patients were collected every other day after entering the study until the day of viral total RNA clearance, as measured by reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR). Time to cessation of viral shedding was in order from shortest to longest: by viral culture, sgRNA RT-PCR, and total RNA RT-PCR. The median time (interquartile range) to negativity of viral culture, subgenomic N transcript, and N gene were 7 (5 to 9), 11 (9 to 16), and 18 (13 to 21) days, respectively (P, 0.001). Further analysis identified the receipt of steroid as the factors associated with longer duration of viral infectivity (hazard ratio, 3.28; 95% confidence interval, 1.02 to 10.61; P = 0.047). We propose the potential role of the detection of SARS-CoV-2 subgenomic RNA as the surrogate marker of viral infectivity. Patients with negative subgenomic N RNA RT-PCR could be considered for ending isolation. IMPORTANCE Our study, combined with existing evidence, suggests the feasibility of the use of subgenomic RNA RT-PCR as a surrogate marker for SARS-CoV-2 infectivity. The kinetics of SARS-CoV-2 subgenomic RNA should be further investigated in immunocompromised patients.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • infectivity
  • subgenomic RNA
  • viral shedding


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