SARS-CoV-2 Viremia is Associated with COVID-19 Severity and Predicts Clinical Outcomes.



SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA (vRNA) is detected in the bloodstream of some patients with COVID-19 ("RNAemia") but it is not clear whether this RNAemia reflects viremia (i.e., virus particles) and how RNAemia/viremia is related to host immune responses and outcomes.


SARS-CoV-2 vRNA was quantified by ultra-sensitive RT-PCR in plasma samples (0.5-1.0 ml) from observational cohorts of 51 COVID-19 patients including 9 outpatients, 19 hospitalized (non-ICU), and 23 ICU patients, and vRNA levels compared with cross-sectional indices of COVID-19 severity and prospective clinical outcomes. We used multiple imaging methods to visualize virions in pelleted plasma.


SARS-CoV-2 vRNA was detected in plasma of 100%, 52.6% and 11.1% of ICU, non-ICU, and outpatients respectively. Virions were detected in plasma pellets by electron tomography and immunostaining. Plasma vRNA levels were significantly higher in ICU > non-ICU > outpatients (p<0.0001); and for inpatient, plasma vRNA levels were strongly associated with higher WHO score at admission (p=0.01), maximum WHO score (p=0.002) and discharge disposition (p=0.004). A plasma vRNA level >6,000 copies/ml was strongly associated with mortality (HR: 10.7). Levels of vRNA were significantly associated with several inflammatory biomarkers (p<0.01) but not with plasma neutralizing antibody titers (p=0.8).


Visualization of virus particles in plasma indicates that SARS-CoV-2 RNAemia is due, at least in part, to viremia. The levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNAemia quantified by ultrasensitive RT-PCR correlate strongly with disease severity, patient outcome and specific inflammatory biomarkers but not neutralizing antibody titers.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Jacobs, Jana L, William Bain, Asma Naqvi, Brittany Staines, Priscila MS Castanha, Haopu Yang, Valerie F Boltz, Simon Barratt-Boyes, et al. (2021). SARS-CoV-2 Viremia is Associated with COVID-19 Severity and Predicts Clinical Outcomes. Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. 10.1093/cid/ciab686 Retrieved from

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Thomas Norton Denny

Professor in Medicine

Thomas N. Denny, MSc, M.Phil, is the Chief Operating Officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI), Associate Dean for Duke Research and Discovery @RTP, and a Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center. He is also an Affiliate Member of the Duke Global Health Institute. Previously, he served on the Health Sector Advisory Council of the Duke University Fuquay School of Business. Prior to joining Duke, he was an Associate Professor of Pathology, Laboratory Medicine and Pediatrics, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Community Health and Assistant Dean for Research in Health Policy at the New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey. He has served on numerous committees for the NIH over the last two decades and currently is the principal investigator of an NIH portfolio in excess of 65 million dollars. Mr. Denny was a 2002-2003 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM). As a fellow, he served on the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee with legislation/policy responsibilities in global AIDS, bioterrorism, clinical trials/human subject protection and vaccine related-issues.

As the Chief Operating Officer of the DHVI, Mr. Denny has senior oversight of the DHVI research portfolio and the units/teams that support the DHVI mission. He has extensive international experience and previously was a consultant to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) project to oversee the development of an HIV and Public Health Center of Excellence laboratory network in Guyana. In September 2004, the IOM appointed him as a consultant to their Board on Global Health Committee studying the options for overseas placement of U.S. health professionals and the development of an assessment plan for activities related to the 2003 PEPFAR legislative act. In the 1980s, Mr. Denny helped establish a small laboratory in the Republic of Kalmykia (former Soviet Union) to improve the care of children with HIV/AIDS and served as a Board Member of the Children of Chernobyl Relief Fund Foundation. In 2005, Mr. Denny was named a consulting medical/scientific officer to the WHO Global AIDS Program in Geneva. He has also served as program reviewers for the governments of the Netherlands and South Africa as well as an advisor to several U.S. biotech companies. He currently serves as the Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for Grid Biosciences.

Mr. Denny has authored and co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed papers and serves on the editorial board of Communications in Cytometry and Journal of Clinical Virology. He holds an M.Sc in Molecular and Biomedical Immunology from the University of East London and a degree in Medical Law (M.Phil) from the Institute of Law and Ethics in Medicine, School of Law, University of Glasgow. In 1991, he completed a course of study in Strategic Management at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. In 1993, he completed the Program for Advanced Training in Biomedical Research Management at Harvard School of Public Health. In December 2005, he was inducted as a Fellow into the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the oldest medical society in the US.

While living in New Jersey, Mr. Denny was active in his community, gaining additional experience from two publicly elected positions. In 2000, Mr. Denny was selected by the New Jersey League of Municipalities to Chair the New Jersey Community Mental Health Citizens’ Advisory Board and Mental Health Planning Council as a gubernatorial appointment.


Christopher Wildrick Woods

Wolfgang Joklik Distinguished Professor of Global Health

1. Emerging Infections
2. Global Health
3. Epidemiology of infectious diseases
4. Clinical microbiology and diagnostics
5. Bioterrorism Preparedness
6. Surveillance for communicable diseases
7. Antimicrobial resistance

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