Scientists launch manhunt for ‘longest ever’ Covid patient in Ohio

FoundCare staff conducting COVID-19 tests

Scientists are trying to track down an Ohio resident who they believe is the longest-standing Covid patient ever, can reveal.

The patient – thought to live in the Columbus area – is carrying a highly mutated version of the virus that is ‘unlike anything’ experts have seen.

The virus has been detected through wastewater sampling and traced back to early 2021. It is being repeatedly picked up along a 40-mile area, signaling that one person is carrying and shedding it through their stool.

Dr Marc Johnson, a microbiologist at the University of Missouri, warned the mutations the strain has would be serious enough to make it a ‘variant of concern’ if it began circulating in the population.

Dr Johnson believes the strain is being shed by the same person who regularly  commutes between Columbus and Washington Court House.

The scientist is unsure whether the person is contagious or how they have managed to stay infected so long.

Patients who harbor viruses for exceptionally long periods of time often have weakened immune systems, which means their body struggles to clear the virus. Many scientists believe the Alpha, Delta and Omicron variants all emerged this way.

Dr Johnson is, however, convinced the patient is healthy and may travel for work or school, but he could not rule out a chronically ill person who commutes for hospital care. His team cannot say for certain that it is just one patient, either.

The Missouri team has been analyzing Covid samples from sewage across the US in search of ‘cryptic’ Covid strains — new variants of the virus that have emerged with unknown origins.

The technique was used as a tool throughout the pandemic. Because the virus shows up in stool before someone suffers symptoms, wastewater data could help detect where outbreaks were going to emerge days in advance.

‘We reverse analyze [wastewater] to see if anything in there that doesn’t match any lineages,’ Dr Johnson told

‘Very early on there was this [sample] that was different than anything we had seen,’ he continued.

Late last year, his team began to scan wastewater data from Ohio.

He found the virus in Columbus, the state’s largest city of nearly 1million, and in Washington Court House, a small city of just 15,000 just southwest.

This same lineage has not been detected anywhere else to his knowledge. This specific pattern likely means the person lives in Washington Court House and commutes to Columbus.

It could be for work, but the patient could also be a student, as Columbus is home to Ohio State University — which has more than 66,000 students.

It is unclear how the person has harbored the virus for so long, but it is likely the virus has mutated within him to cause little complications.

The longest confirmed Covid case was logged by British doctors in April of last year when they confirmed a patient had been infected for 505 days — nearly a year and a half.

Overall, there are likely only a few thousand people that meet these guidelines, a relatively small group to be sifted through.

This strain has mutated within this person over time. It has mutated to such a degree that it likely carries traits greatly different from any existing strain — meaning it poses a danger if it spreads.

If this was circulating, it would immediately be declared a variant of concern,’ Dr Johnson said.

However, the virus has likely mutated within this person to the extent that it is not fit to spread.

Instead, the virus has managed to adjust itself in a way that it can live within its host for a long period of time while going relatively undetected.

It is likely a version of the Alpha or Wuhan strain that has significantly mutated within his body.

The virus has managed to hide in the person’s body to replicate infinitely without the immune system targeting it.

This can occur when the virus reaches ‘immuno-privileged sites’ in the body, where the immune system is unlikely to target. These can include the eyes, brain and fertility organs like the testes.

But while unlikely, it could be possible that the virus gains a few mutations necessary for it to begin to spread in the population.

The patient is also likely asymptomatic or potentially experiencing symptoms similar to a bowel condition like Chron’s disease — where sufferers experience cramping and diarrhea.

‘There is a good chance they do not know they are affected,’ he continued.

Dr Johnson hopes to find this patient to first get them medical attention but also to gather samples he can use to learn more about the cryptic strain.

His team has been able to track down the holders of cryptic Covid lineages in the past.

In Spring 2022, Dr Johnson found a cryptic strain in Wisconsin. The afflicted person was shedding viral load at an exorbitant rate.

His team tested water in manholes in the area, and managed to track down where the load was coming from.

In late Summer 2022, they linked the strain to a toilet at a specific building, which employed many people who were coming to work each day. One of those employees is carrying the cryptic strain, Dr Johnson believes.

The business has agreed to allow Dr Johnson to collect stool samples from some employees to determine which one is carrying the strain.

The typical Covid case lasts for only a few days — and the maximum time someone should expect to be sick is two weeks.

However, many people have experienced prolonged symptoms after Covid infection — some being diagnosed with the mysterious condition ‘long Covid’.

Dr Johnson fears that in some of these cases, a person is continuing to feel these symptoms because they are actually just suffering a continued infection.