The fear of a weak positive Covid-19 test

12:46 pm on 23 September 2020

First Person - The virus was gone. Or was it? What was happening?

Tom Kitchin was in isolation at home after his weak positive Covid-19 test. He is not infectious.

Tom Kitchin was in isolation at home after his Covid-19 test returned a weak positive result, and was informed that he was not infectious. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

These were some of the questions running through my mind when a new Covid-19 test I took came back positive.

I had the virus months ago - I spent about 40 days in isolation from March to May this year, including a week in a quarantine hotel where I could not step outside my room.

My case was relatively mild - I was sick in bed with a bad cough, mild fever and headache, and no hospital care was required.

But over the past week, the fear of having Covid-19 returned, completely unexpectedly.

A few days ago, I felt a wave of tiredness come over me. I also had a mild sore throat, something I had had in the late days of my first round of the virus.

There's a lot of talk about the Covid-19 long haulers - those whose symptoms keep returning - but I hadn't experienced any lingering symptoms or problems since my recovery - I felt like I was back to a clean bill of health.

So it was strange for these minor symptoms to return.

I was working in my office alone that day so I rushed home and went to bed.

Then I had to figure out what to do next - should I get a Covid-19 test again? This would be my fourth swab.

After a few hours of deliberation, I rang the doctor for advice.

They recommended taking another swab just for surveillance, this wasn't a probable case.

The next day, I was off getting a fourth swab.

I'm pretty used to them now - they stick it up a nostril, leave it in there for about 10 seconds, while you wince as the discomfort kicks in.

The next part was hard - I waited 72 hours for the results to return. I waited, staring at my phone for an answer while stuck inside my house. Patience was wearing thin.

But the next part was only harder.

I saw a number pop up on my phone, finally my GP had the results!

But the district health board's public health team were on the line. My first thought was 'what?' These guys only call if you test positive. My hands were shaking with trepidation.

One of them spoke.

"This may be a shock to you, but the test has come back as a weak positive."

'What?' As I told Morning Report yes, I was shocked. I put the phone down for a half a minute, to catch my breath and thoughts.

"Do you want us to call back?" the staff asked.

"No, no, I'm fine, just tell me what you need to," I replied.

They said they had to take precautions.

Was I infectious? Was I safe? Nothing was certain.

They gathered the details of my close contacts over the last 48 hours, calling and asking them to seek a test and self-isolate.

Within the hour, nurses came around to my house to get two swabs - another Covid swab and a respiratory illness swab.

They took the respiratory illness swab so experts can identify if there's any other problem that could have caused the tiny particles of Covid-19 in my system.

As Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told RNZ, scientists believe the presence of Covid-19 like this can be detected when another respiratory infection appears. There could be inflammation in the throat and cells are being broken down, causing Covid-19 fragments to show up.

This doesn't mean I'm infectious.

The next morning, so much was unknown - would the swab return positive? Would my contacts have it?

I got a call and a wave of relief hit.

I was told my second swab was negative and a remnant of the old infection.

But to make sure I still had to brace myself for the next news - would my close contacts test positive?

Over the day, I heard they all tested negative. Luckily they didn't have to wait three days, only a few hours.

It was a huge relief. Crisis averted. I was not infectious. I could leave isolation.

I'm feeling well now, but it is possible another minor illness could have forced the remnants to return.

At the time of writing, I'm still waiting for the results of the respiratory illness swab.

I would like to thank the public health team - they were extremely helpful, friendly, and acted incredibly fast once my first result had come back.

There's still so much we have to learn about this virus.

Even though we are back down to level 1, I'm going to keep using the NZ Covid Tracer app wherever I go and keep taking precautions.

Please, as I've learned from my experience, if you feel ill seek a test! You might have to wait a few days but the more we can learn about this virus for everyone, the better. It's been a tricky one.

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