Transient Positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR without Induction of Systemic Immune Responses
SARS-CoV-2 testing is dominated by PCR to guide treatment and individual as well as public health preventive measures. Among 1700 football (soccer) players and staff of the German Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 who were regularly tested by PCR twice weekly, 98 individuals had a positive PCR (May 2020 to mid-January 2021). A subset of these were retested shortly after the initial positive result. Among those, 11 subjects were identified who only had a transient single positive PCR of low viral load. All individuals were asymptomatic and none developed long COVID. We tested SARS-CoV-2 IgG and IgA as well as SARS-CoV-2 specific CD4 und CD8 positive T cells, and showed that only one out of 11 individuals developed SARS-CoV-2 specific cellular and humoral immunity after the positive PCR, whereas a specific immunity was undetectable in all other individuals. Thus, a single positive PCR might indicate that transient colonization of the upper respiratory tract with SARS-CoV-2 may occur without systemic induction of specific adaptive immunity. Together with test artifacts as another potential reason for a transiently positive test, this finding may favor cautious interpretation of positive PCR results or retesting before initiating intervening treatment or infection control measures in some cases.