Persistent viral RNA shedding of SARS-CoV-2 is associated with delirium incidence and six-month mortality in hospitalized COVID-19 patients

Geroscience. 2022 Jun;44(3):1241-1254. doi: 10.1007/s11357-022-00561-z. Epub 2022 May 11.


Background: Persistent viral RNA shedding of SARS-CoV-2 following COVID-19 has increasingly been recognized, with limited understanding of its implications on outcomes in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Methods: We retrospectively assessed for persistent viral shedding across Northwestern Medicine Healthcare (NMHC) patients between March and August 2020. We assessed for predictors of persistent viral shedding, in-hospital delirium, and six-month mortality using binary logistic regression.

Results: Of the 2,518 hospitalized patients with an RT-PCR-confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, 959 underwent repeat SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR at least fourteen days from initial positive testing. Of those, 405 (42.2%) patients were found to have persistent viral shedding. Persistent viral shedding was associated with male sex, increased BMI, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, and exposure to corticosteroids during initial COVID-19 hospitalization. Persistent viral shedding was independently associated with incidence of in-hospital delirium after adjusting for factors including severity of respiratory dysfunction (OR 2.45; 95% CI 1.75, 3.45). Even after adjusting for age, severity of respiratory dysfunction, and occurrence of in-hospital delirium, persistent viral shedding remained significantly associated with increased six-month mortality (OR 2.43; 95% CI 1.42, 4.29).

Conclusions: Persistent viral shedding occurs frequently in hospitalized COVID-19 patients and is associated with in-hospital delirium and increased six-month mortality.

Keywords: COVID-19; Delirium; SARS-CoV-2; Viral Shedding.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Delirium* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • RNA, Viral / analysis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Virus Shedding


  • RNA, Viral