Still Covid-positive on home antigen tests on Day 20
June 10, 2024 4:20 AM   Subscribe

I’ve heard people can test positive for weeks or months, but that seems to be on PCR tests, and/or people with underlying health issues or who had severe symptoms. It seems unusual for someone like me. Is it? What might it mean? Data and anecdata both welcome.

I’m an otherwise healthy 55-year old, fully vaxxed/boosted, first-timer with Covid. I haven’t had any fever or other symptoms except tiredness at the beginning and intermittently since then, and sometimes mildly weak/wobbly feeling muscles. I’ve been testing positive on near-daily antigen tests. Sometimes the line is pale-ish but easily visible at 15 minutes. Other times it’s not even visible at the beginning of the test’s specified 15-30 minute reading window, but it just barely shows up by the end. It’s never been anywhere close to dark.

I’m worrying about two things…

1. Why isn’t my body clearing the virus? I think of symptoms in part as signs that one’s body is fighting (e.g., running a fever to burn out the invaders), and I haven’t had strong symptoms. Is my body not fighting? Are there underlying problems I should be checked for, like something wrong with my immune system? I have regular physicals and nothing’s been flagged. I have had elevated IgM for decades (around 800 on a 40-230 reference range), but it’s been looked into and declared not of any known cause or concern (and polyclonal, not monoclonal). I don’t tend to get sick or stay sick.

2. The longer it sticks around, the more I’m worrying about all the kinds of long-term havoc I’ve heard Covid can wreck on the body.

It’s also frustrating not knowing whether continued isolation is needed. There seem to be mixed opinions about whether I could still be contagious. The CDC would've had me stop testing and even masking weeks ago, but I don’t trust that. My doctor is in the camp that feels I could be contagious (and didn’t have anything more to say about the rest of it). So, I’ve still been isolating from my husband and in general, though less strictly than in the beginning. He’s thankfully stayed negative.

I’ve also been doing a whole lot of nothing. I don’t know how I’ll tell when I’m not Covid-tired anymore, but just deconditioned from inactivity.

I’m collapsing the rest here, as it’s just spitballing detail about why this could be happening. So click to see that detail, or skip it.
- Maybe it’s just a weird strain? It was slow to develop after exposure – I didn’t test positive until an unusual 6.5 days later (with no other exposures in between). The one other person who got it from the same exposure as me also took a long time to clear it, though not this long, and she’s much older. But the person we both got it from unexpectedly cleared it in eight days, even though he’s severely immunocompromised – his doctors expected it to take several weeks for him.

- Maybe it’s because we’ve stayed extremely careful and fairly isolated ever since the pandemic started, and my body forgot how to fight viruses?

- Maybe something I took/am taking is extending it? After consulting with my doctor early on, we agreed that I shouldn’t go on Paxlovid, but that I would take a 14-day course of Metformin, in hopes of lowering viral load and odds of developing long Covid (in part due to research shared in response to my earlier question). That ended on Jun 7. I’m also on my regular Vitamins D and B due to deficiencies I otherwise get. I’ve been taking this Wellness Formula – more at the start and a couple of capsules a day now. I used Enovid and a CPC mouthwash from a couple-few days after exposure, and less so recently.

I’d really appreciate any input on whether this is as unusual as I think, why it could be happening, and what to do.
posted by daisyace to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would say your own personal doctor remains your best source of info just because they understand your full suite of health better than a web article or strangers. But it sounds incredibly frustrating! On behalf of immunocompromised people everywhere who have no choice but to go out in public, thank you for being so careful and concerned.

It is rare but not unheard of. For example: Still testing positive after day 10? How to decide when to end your COVID isolation

As to your hypotheses about why this is happening to you, your immune system is not a muscle that requires exposure to disease to continue working and does not "forget how to fight viruses".

I haven't heard anything about Metformin prolonging positive tests, and it turns out the idea that Paxlovid does this is probably bunk--COVID Rebound Can Happen Whether or Not You Take Paxlovid.

Take care. I hope you test negative soon!
posted by hydropsyche at 4:36 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]

An older person in my family tested positive on home antigen tests for over 45 days. No major symptoms after the first couple weeks, and they recovered fine, but just kept testing positive, until finally eventually one day they tested negative. I looked and looked, and nobody had the data I wanted on this phenomenon, but it can happen. Was she still contagious during that time? I never got answers to that beyond "prooooobably not??" so we kept masking (in our case for other reasons, it was the non-covid household members who were masking, with N-95s).

I don't have info on why but I am here to affirm it happens.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:25 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Epidemiologist here. Your 20 days is long but not exceptional.

1. Don't make the assumption that your body isn't clearning the virus. You can divide what that process entails into a lot of categories. Notably for you "neutralizing the virus" is not the same as "digesting all of the antigens and stuff that come spilling out of neutralized virus particules." The immune system has a startling amount of person-to-person idiosyncrasy and you're still nowhere near what I'd consider an exceptional case. You're just on the long tail portion of the bell curve.

2. See item above. Long Covid isn't a function of persistent exposure to virus bits, as best as we can tell. Isolation still makes sense and, if you like, you can order an at-home collection for a PCR test. That will get you closer (but still note perfectly) to an answer about whether you're still actively harboring replicating virus.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:54 AM on June 10 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, that's a fantastically helpful answer! I'll wait a day to mark it as a Best in case the checkmark would discourage other replies, which I'd still like -- especially on this anecdotal aspect:
- If you were like me and this happened to you, after finally testing negative, have you been well?

Late afternoon dreaming hotel, when you say that a PCR test could get me closer to knowing whether the virus is still replicating, can you explain how so, and whether that's a proxy for whether I'm still contagious? I thought a months-long positive result on a PCR test was relatively common (compared to the same on an antigen test). Do PCR tests have more nuance than just positive or negative?
posted by daisyace at 7:11 AM on June 10

Anecdata: I, a perfectly healthy 38 year old, tested positive at home for 17 days and did not have long covid that I’m aware of. It was maddening. I have no answers but you’re not alone. One day I just stopped testing positive, and so will you.
posted by samthemander at 7:16 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

You might check that your test kits are not expired. There was that thing a couple of years ago that you can use expired tests, but those extended expiration dates have also expired by now. Here’s a gov site where you can use the serial number on your test kit to check:

I also hope you clear this up soon.
posted by at at 7:27 AM on June 10

Also! One thing I noticed when I told people how long I had been testing positive, is that it seems like a lot of people don’t consistently/daily test when they have Covid. They just follow the general timelines and live in blissful ignorance. I came to the conclusion that I probably wasn’t an outlier for testing positive at day 17; I was an outlier for still testing at that point. Most people stopped testing after day 5 + symptoms disappeared.

Truthfully, I wish I had taken that perspective. I experienced extremely high stress levels during that time (house was under construction, I had a 1yo and 3yo who couldn’t go to daycare while I tested positive, and I had just started back at work after 2 years being a SAHP so my husband hadn’t figured his coparenting shit out at that time). It probably took me two months to get back on track after that. I don’t believe it was long covid, I believe it was the stressful mess of a isolating for so long with so little support and high demands.
posted by samthemander at 2:55 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]

I tested positive for 17 days in February. Was very sick. I am not yet back to where I was pre-virus (pain in lungs, trouble breathing, hoping it gets better). Started paxlovid on day 1, and it helped enormously.

My doctor told me something along the lines of "after 5 days you are no longer contagious" which... I continued to mask until I cleared a home test.

Many folks recommend avoiding exercise once you get better for 6-8 weeks. I tried to rest for 6 weeks. Still haven't been able to get back to exercising (due to breathing issues and overall fear of making my situation worse).

I hope you are feeling 100% and clearing tests very soon.

(oh! there is one brand that will give you false positives if you have a protein that is a possible indicator for rheumatoid arthritis. I have that protein, and I got a false negative on that particular brand. It was not Binax, maybe itest?)
posted by armacy at 6:20 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

I had COVID a bit over a year ago and came down with it again recently. The last time I kept testing until it was negative (maybe took 2 weeks). This time maybe I will take another test in a week or two to check in. But my doctor friend also told me that there's not much concern about being contagious after 5 days (might be specific to being around people who are vaccinated and are younger/healthier though). I'm not planning to go crazy maskless coughing on everything in sight after 5 days or anything but it does make me wonder how useful a gauge the negative at-home test is in terms of decision making about resuming your life, if your symptoms have improved for a while. The current guidance from the CDC is to resume activities with caution (masking and so on) when it's been 24 hours since you had no fever and your symptoms had improved, then 5 days later to resume normal activities.
posted by knownfossils at 10:50 PM on June 10

Sorry for multiple comments on this thread. Your question has gotten me re-analyzing a period of my life that I didn’t have the capacity to think about sooner.

I stopped isolating from my family members around day 12. At the time, my husband and one kid had tested positive and already recovered; the second kid never tested positive but had displayed and overcome symptoms. On my day 18, I tested the second kid to prove that I could send the kids back to school with negative tests, and she turned up positive but asymptomatic. I assume that either she had a rebound infection OR that she finally caught it from me sometime around my day 12-15 as I had stopped masking around her but while I was still testing positive. I have actually always assumed the latter. So, maybe it is for the best for society that I continued to isolate, even if it REALLY sucked for me. I don’t know. I know it was just awful for my mental health, and that I simultaneously felt like I was a self-immolating fool for continuing to isolate. It’s a hard situation, and I do not believe there is a right answer.
posted by samthemander at 9:05 AM on June 12

Response by poster: Thank you for all the input, everybody! Day 23 and no change. I'll update for posterity when I get a PCR test result and/or if I start testing negative.
posted by daisyace at 8:47 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I got a PCR today, and it's negative! So I'm not contagious, even with continued positive antigen tests.
posted by daisyace at 10:25 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

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