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South Korea coronavirus reinfections were actually false positives caused by a certain type of test


Hundreds of people tested positive again after recovery

South Korean nurses wear protective gear caring for patients infected with the coronavirus at Keimyung University Daegu Dongsan Hospital in Daegu on Wednesday. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

South Korean health officials now say the alleged COVID-19 reinfection cases they found were actually caused by false positive test results, according to the Korea Herald.

Nearly 300 people who had contracted and recovered from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus tested positive again days or weeks after their recovery, sparking fears about whether people could become infected more than once in a short period of time.

Doctors have concluded, however, that the antibodies a person develops after recovering from the virus should prevent reinfection.

The committee ruled out reactivation of COVID-19 as a reason for relapses and said there was little to no possibility that reinfections would occur due to antibodies that patients develop.

"The process in which COVID-19 produces a new virus takes place only in host cells and does not infiltrate the nucleus. This means it does not cause chronic infection or recurrence," said Oh Myoung-don, head of the central clinical committee for emerging disease control.

What caused the false positives? The type of test used in South Korea has the potential to recognize dead virus fragments in recovered COVID-19 patients, triggering a positive test result even if the virus is not active. Dead virus fragments can linger for months after a patient recovers.

Oh said the tests "detected the ribonucleic acid of the dead virus."

"PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing that amplifies genetics of the virus is used in Korea to test COVID-19, and relapse cases are due to technical limits of the PCR testing," Oh said, according to the Korea Herald.

South Korea's status: South Korea has been considered one of the gold standard countries in its coronavirus response, particularly due to its ability to conduct widespread testing to inform its social distancing policies. The country has had more than 10,000 confirmed cases and 246 deaths, with new infections occurring at a pace of roughly 10 per day.

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