She had resumed work after being discharged, however, according to a source from the hospital she began displaying COVID-19 symptoms once again.

Nurse in Chennai hospital succumbs to COVID-19 suspected case of relapseImage for Representation
Coronavirus Coronavirus Sunday, June 14, 2020 - 19:42

A 54-year-old staff nurse working at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH) was confirmed to have succumbed to COVID-19 on Sunday. Nurse Thangalakshmi who had been working at the government hospital since 1994 had initially tested positive for the viral disease in mid-March this year. She was then treated following which her second test came back negative. Thangalakshmi had resumed work after being discharged, however, according to a source from the hospital she began displaying COVID-19 symptoms once again, close to a month later.

Thangalakshmi’s swab results came back positive for novel coronavirus disease a few days ago following which her condition took a turn for the worse. She was put on the ventilator on Sunday morning but unfortunately passed away later that day. Thangalakshmi’s husband, who also works at the hospital, has tested positive for the disease and is currently undergoing treatment at the hospital. It is unclear whether she had a relapse or the first test was a false negative. Sources at the hospital however say it is most likely a case of relapse.

Thangalakshmi’s death comes weeks after the death of 58-year-old Pricilla Mary, who was a matron at RGGGH. Pricilla who had comorbitidies was admitted on May 24 at the hospital after she experienced breathlessness, fatigue and complications due to diabetes. She passed away a few days later on May 28.

Pricilla’s death, however, kicked up a controversy with the hospital maintaining that she had twice tested negative for the virus disease and so COVID-19 was not the reason for her death.

Many questioned why and how the hospital allowed Priscilla to work at a COVID ward inspite of having compromised immunity.

Read: 'Why did you not let us see her?': Family of Chennai nurse who died questions hospital

Earlier on Sunday, it was reported that RGGGH Dean Jayanthi had proceeded on leave and that Professor Dr K Narayanasamy, director and professor of Herpetology at Madras Medical College (MMC) would take over the additional charge.

While more details on Thangalakshmi's case is awaited, there have been cases of individuals from South Korea and Japan being ‘reinfected’ by the SARS-CoV-2 virus after surviving COVID-19 the first time. However, recent research has suggested that this could be a case of ‘false positives’ - wherein fragments of the virus were being detected by the real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) kits. In other words, these bits of the virus may not be infectious, but continue to linger in the body, thereby resulting in a ‘false positive’.  

However, there have also been cases of COVID-19 patients reporting symptoms for weeks and months. Dr Joshua Schiffer, an expert in infectious diseases at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the US told The Guardian that there is a possibility of ‘prolonged lung inflammation and/or scarring’ in patients who have long-lasting symptoms. 

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