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The post-acute phase of SARS-CoV-2 infection was investigated in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) and cynomolgus macaques (Macaca fascicularis). During the acute phase of infection, SARS-CoV-2 was shed via nose and throat, and viral RNA was occasionally detected in feces. This phase coincided with a transient change in systemic immune activation. Even after the alleged resolution of the infection, as suggested by the absence of viral RNA in nasal and tracheal swabs, computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET)-CT were able to reveal pulmonary lesions and activated tracheobronchial lymph nodes in all animals. Post-mortem histological examination of the lung tissue revealed mostly marginal or resolving minimal lesions that were indicative of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Evidence for SARS-CoV-2-induced histopathology was also found in extrapulmonary tissue samples, like conjunctiva, cervical and mesenteric lymph nodes. However, 5-6 weeks after SARS-CoV-2 exposure, upon necropsy, viral RNA was still detectable in a wide range of tissue samples in 50% of the macaques and included amongst others the heart, the respiratory tract and surrounding lymph nodes, salivary gland, and conjunctiva. Subgenomic messenger RNA was detected in the lungs and tracheobronchial lymph nodes, indicative of ongoing virus replication during the post-acute phase. These results could be relevant for understanding the long-term consequences of COVID-19 in humans.

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