There’s new information on how long SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, lingers in the brain and other parts of the body.

A study published in the journal Nature sought to determine the persistence of the virus in the brain and other parts of the human body during a COVID-19 infection.

Since scientists learned earlier in the pandemic that the coronavirus disease causes a multi-organ dysfunction, new research efforts are focused on mapping the post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 and understanding the prolonged symptoms in long COVID, especially when multiple organs are affected.

For the new study, the team collected and analyzed complete autopsy samples from 44 patients who were unvaccinated when they passed away with COVID-19. They also did an extensive sampling of the central nervous system in 11 of the patients to evaluate the activity of the virus in the brain.

Upon analyzing the samples, the researchers found that SARS-CoV-2 was widely distributed in the bodies of the patients who died of severe COVID-19. The virus was present in respiratory and non-respiratory tissues, including the brain early in the infection.

Interestingly, the team also noticed that SARS-CoV-2 RNA persistently stayed in multiple organs, including the brain, for around 230 days or almost eight months since the onset of the symptoms in one case.

The team reported that though there was an extensive distribution of the virus RNA throughout the body in several patients, there was little evidence of inflammation and other disease manifestations at the cellular level.

Before the study, “the thinking in the field was that SARS-CoV-2 was predominantly a respiratory virus,” senior study author Daniel Chertow, MD, MPH, said in a news release obtained by Neuroscience News.

The findings could help the ongoing efforts of the medical community to better understand long COVID and its manifestations.

“We’re hoping to replicate the data on viral persistence and study the relationship with long COVID. Less than a year in, we have about 85 cases, and we are working to expand these efforts,” said Stephen Hewitt, a coauthor of the Paxlovid RECOVER trial that will begin this 2023.