Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, experts have grappled with the question of whether a patient who recovers from coronavirus disease can contract the disease again. The assumption about most viruses is that a second infection is usually milder than the first, because the body has built antibodies against it, but that is not always the case, as some viruses can actually make a second infection worse, such as Dengue fever and Zika virus. Researchers have noted that there is still much about SARS-CoV-2 that medical and research experts are still revealing.
A woman in Los Angeles seemed to have recovered from COVID-19, but weeks later took a turn for the worse and tested positive again. Also, a New Jersey Doctor claimed several patients healed from one bout only to become reinfected with the coronavirus. And another Doctor said a second round of illness was a reality for some people, and was much more severe.
On the other hand, many recovered patients feel they are now safe from the deadly virus, as comments and reactions on posts of ‘no reinfection’ have many likes and acceptance. Such Twitter posts indicate relief, which means people who have been earlier tested for the virus are free to live life more freely with the assumption of strong immunity.
Is it true a coronavirus infection may offer some protection or immunity against reinfection? Or are the reinfection claims truly ‘sensationalist click baits’? Will such negative assumptions about reinfection not escalate the rate at which the virus is being spread? If the truth about reinfection is ignored, won’t there be more cases and dangers in our societies?
Reported cases of Coronavirus Reinfection
As of September 3, 2020, there were at least four documented cases of COVID-19 reinfection, meaning an individual was infected with the coronavirus, recovered and became infected again with the same virus. Genome sequencing is used to detect these cases because it is the same virus, whether the virus in the second infection is identical to the first or a clear case of mutation, as viruses mutate over time, it is a case of reinfection.
The first case was in Hong Kong, where the patient was sick and hospitalised from late March to early April and tested positive again on August 15, but at the second time, the patient was asymptomatic. Also, Europe has seen two cases of reinfection, one in an older, Dutch person with a weakened immune system and another in Belgium.
In the U.S, a 25-year-old man in Reno, Nevada, tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-April and became sick again in late May. The genomic evidence showed it was a true case of reinfection as the man was sicker with his second infection, requiring hospitalization. He appears to be the first confirmed case of COVID-19 reinfection in the U.S.
Though coronavirus reinfections are rare, there are several documented cases where reinfections have occurred. The patient first tested positive for SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, then at some point tested negative before testing positive for a second time. According to Johns Hopkins University, though several reinfection cases have been reported, they represent a very small percentage of the over 45 million total confirmed cases worldwide.
Medical Practitioners’ Reports
A Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist, Dr Onyema Ogbuagu, told Healthline that “Real-world experience suggests reinfections are very rare, but would be interesting to see if there is a seasonality to the virus with waning immunity next year,” In other words, while reinfection can happen in very limited circumstances, it’s not a common occurrence.
A person may not be able to ascertain if a recurrence of the virus is truly a reinfection or an example of a long-hauler coronavirus infection unless the person gets extensive testing. Some medics believe that people who feel sick weeks or months after testing positive for the virus may still be experiencing symptoms as a result of the initial infection, also known as “long-haulers.” A Medic writer, Mr Dale Smith, noted that in other instances, doctors have run genetic analyses on samples of the virus taken from patients during the first infection and then again during the second. In cases where those samples showed genetically significant differences, scientists have concluded they were separate, unrelated infections.
According to epidemiologists and virologists, reinfection is unlikely for the first three months after testing positive for the virus.
Speaking with Dr Olayinka Ilesanmi of the Community Medicine Department, University College Hospital, Ibadan, he noted that “if someone is infected, for now, there is no evidence that the person can ever be reinfected again. But nobody is 100% sure of how long”. He noted that recently published research shows that after six month, the likelihood that people that have been infected can still be reinfected again, but they are not sure of how long it can take.
He explained that if 100 people are likely to be reinfected, it does not have to be exactly six months, “No! What it’s saying is that the majority of them, let’s say 95% of the time, will take six Months. That means some of them can have it less than the six Months and some may never even be, or may have it after several years.”
An Associate Writer on Health issues, Dale Smith, noted that for most patients who have had COVID-19 more than once, symptoms have typically been mild or absent entirely with a second bout with the virus. But some patients’ second illnesses have actually been worse compared to their first infection. It’s too soon to know for sure which reaction is more typical, plus there are too few cases to study.
Speaking on how reinfection can affect vaccines, Dr Ilesanmi noted that researches are on and can only be validated after vaccine distributions and usage. He added that Medical practitioners are hopeful that the vaccines will give people enough immunity to be able to resume and continue normal life once enough people are vaccinated.
Precautions against Reinfection
The importance of this article is to help control COVID-19 infections by suppressing transmission of the virus and preventing associated illness and death. The virus, according to many researches, is primarily spread through contact and respiratory droplets; under some circumstances airborne transmission may occur, such as when aerosol generating procedures are conducted in health care settings or potentially, in indoor crowded poorly ventilated settings elsewhere.
To prevent transmission, WHO recommends a comprehensive set of measures including:
- Observe physical distancing as much as you can, at least, six feet apart from the person next to your right, left, front or back side.
- Frequent hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette should be practiced at all times.
- Avoid crowded places, close-contact settings, confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.
- Wear fabric masks when in closed, crowded spaces to protect yourself and others; and
- Ensure good environmental ventilation in all closed settings and appropriate environmental cleaning and disinfection.
- Use of contact and droplet precautions by health workers caring for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients is very important.
- Use of airborne precautions when aerosol generating procedures are performed.
- Continuous use of a medical mask by health workers and caregivers working in all clinical areas, during all routine activities throughout the entire shift;
If you have ever tested positive, there is a chance you could contract the virus again and possibly infect other people. Medical experts have ascertained that a reinfection is possible either weeks after recovering from the first infection or months after the initial infection.
The researcher produced this Media Literacy Article per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship in partnership with the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in Journalism and enhance Media Literacy in the Country.