7 Questions about COVID-19 Immunity and Reinfection, Answered

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Published on 27/08/2020 . 4 mins read
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With the numbers of active COVID-19 patients on the rise, people can’t help but be worried about coronavirus reinfection. Is it possible? Can you get the coronavirus twice? In this article, we will take a closer look at COVID-19 immunity and reinfection.

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What is Coronavirus Reinfection?

Before we move along with our discussion, let’s first define what a “reinfection” means.

Getting the virus twice, or what experts call ‘reinfection’, means that you have recovered and tested negative for the virus. But then, after some time, you tested positive again.

And it’s not because you got traces of the virus left in your body, but because, somehow you got infected for the second time.

Essentially, this means that your latest infection is separate from the initial infection.

Can I Get Coronavirus Twice?

Doctors and health experts across the globe still have a lot of questions about the virus that caused the pandemic. One of them is, is there a possibility of reinfection?

New evidence suggests that it can happen.

They found the “strongest indication” in Hong Kong after a 33-year old man tested positive the second time.

According to reports, the man got the virus in March, was confined when he experienced mild symptoms, recovered, and eventually got discharged after testing negative twice.

On August 15, the man arrived in Hong Kong after traveling in Europe. As per protocol, the authorities tested him for the coronavirus.

When the results came back, he was positive even though he didn’t have symptoms. Experts say that he got the viral strain which was circulating in Europe, probably in July or August, and that it was different from his initial infection.

With researchers saying that it’s the world’s first documented case of reinfection, it’s safer to say that getting the coronavirus twice is possible.

Why is Reinfection Possible?

Reinfection happens because despite recovering from the initial infection, our bodies do not change extensively.

To put it simply, after recovery from the infection, we still have the same types of cells, such as respiratory cells that the virus can attach to. Just because patients are cured doesn’t mean that the recovered cells will prevent future infections.

Shouldn’t Patients Who Recover Gain Immunity?

Despite the possibility of reinfection, studies truly indicate that patients who recover from COVID-19 gain some kind of immunity against the virus.

This immunity is due to the development of antibodies and memory cells.

  • Antibodies are special types of proteins that our immune system uses to neutralize or destroy pathogens, like the COVID-19 virus.
  • On the other hand, a memory cell is an immune cell that has been exposed to a specific pathogen. After exposure, the memory cell will replicate itself and remain in our system to look for the same virus.

If reinfection happens, the memory cells will “remember” the pathogen and encourage faster production of antibodies against the infection.

Because of this efficient system, the infection will be restrained before the patient suffers too much or even develops symptoms. This is the “immunity” we’re talking about.

However, researchers still cannot fathom how long the immunity lasts. As the experts would explain, the immunity could last for a few months, a few years, or a lifetime.

COVID-19: All You Need To Know

If I Develop Reinfection, What Will Happen?

When it comes to COVID-19 immunity and reinfection, it’s first important to understand the possible outcomes:

  • The first is “disease enhancement.” Disease enhancement means your second infection is worse than the initial one. Despite millions of positive cases worldwide, there’s no evidence of disease enhancement in coronavirus reinfection.
  • Another outcome results in the same degree of infection. This means that your reinfection will be as mild (or as severe) as your first experience. Doctors explain that this typically happens when patients did not need antibodies nor memory cells during their first infection because other immune responses were enough to subdue the virus.
  • The third is an improvement, wherein you’ll have milder symptoms or do not develop them at all. This is the “ideal” scenario where the patient develops enough antibodies and memory cells. The reinfection case in Hong Kong seems to be consistent with this third outcome.

The bottom line, according to reports, is that once you get the infection, you shouldn’t assume that you will have lifetime immunity.

However, even with the possibility of reinfection, experts are urging the public not to panic.

With Coronavirus Reinfection, Will I be Contagious?

Mounting evidence suggests that asymptomatic patients could still be contagious.

Thus, even if you don’t have any symptoms after reinfection, it’s advisable to still follow safety protocols and consider yourself infectious.

Moreover, if you recovered from the infection and experience the symptoms once again, immediately isolate yourself and inform the health authorities in your area.

COVID-19: Why Do Some Survive and Some Don’t?

Do We Have Cases of COVID-19 Reinfection in the Philippines?

As of now, we need more studies to see if reinfection is already present in our country.

If you’ll remember, Senator Sonny Angara announced before that he tested positive for COVID after several weeks of recovery.

However, his doctors believe that the positive result was not due to reinfection. But rather, it’s because of the “remnants of the virus” in his system.

Furthermore, they believe that even with the second positive result, the senator was no longer contagious. After all, his wife tested negative for the virus. Nevertheless, Senator Angara underwent self-quarantine to be on the safe side.

DOH Spokesperson, Ma. Rosario Vergeire agreed with the doctor’s analysis. She said that the health experts do not consider RT-PCR testing (swab test) as a good measure of recovery.

This is because it’s possible for the virus to still be in the patient’s system long after they recovered.

When it comes to COVID-19 immunity and reinfection, having a clear mind is important. Equip yourself with the knowledge of the signs and symptoms and research about your community’s communication channels when someone is possibly COVID-positive.

Learn more about COVID-19 here

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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