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COVID-19 patients can harbor the coronavirus in their feces for months after infection, researchers found, stoking concern that its persistence can aggravate the immune system and cause long COVID-19 symptoms.

In the largest study tracking SARS-CoV-2 RNA in feces and COVID-19 symptoms, scientists at California’s Stanford University found that about half of infected patients shed traces of the virus in their waste in the week after infection and almost 4% patients still emit them seven months later. The researchers also linked coronavirus RNA in feces to gastric upsets, and concluded that SARS-CoV-2 likely directly infects the gastrointestinal tract, where it may hide out.

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