Background: Upper respiratory tract specimens are widely applicable for the diagnosis of COVID-19. To date, no study has analyzed the actual viral loads in upper respiratory tract and its relationship with the severity of lung lesions, Ct value of RT-PCR and transmission capacity in COVID-19 patients.
Methods: We retrospectively enrolled nine COVID-19 patients. Clinical data and close contacts of these patients were investigated. Respiratory samples were tested for SARS-CoV-2 with both normal RT-PCR and droplet digital PCR.
Results: All the COVID-19 patients complicated with pneumonia. Viral loads in nasopharyngeal swabs were accurately quantified, and they had no direct correspondence with the severity of lung lesions. The Cycle Threshold (Ct) value of RT-PCR was approximately consistent with the absolute quantification of digital PCR. The spearman correlation coefficient between them was -0.952 with P value < 0.001. Close contacts of patients with very low viral load or no detected virus were not infected.
Conclusions: Viral loads in nasopharyngeal swabs, could not predict the severity of lung lesions revealed by CT in COVID-19 patients. The infectious capacity of patients with low or absent viral load in upper respiratory tract was relatively weak, and wearing mask might be helpful for lower its spread.