Re-infected COVID-19 Patients May Experience Worse Symptoms

According to the The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal released last October 13, current COVID-19 cases can still get re-infected with the virus. This confirms that previous exposure to the coronavirus does not guarantee immunity.

What Was Discovered

The study was based from observing a 25-year old man from Nevada who contracted two distinct variants of SARS-CoV-2 within 48 hours. It was observed that the second infection caused more significant symptoms which resulted in the patient needing oxygen support. The same occurrence happened to 4 other recorded cases in other countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and Ecuador).

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What This Could Mean

For certain diseases like the measles, the antibodies could grant lifelong immunity. For most cases, however, immunity is temporary. In these new findings of severe re-infections, several theories have been proposed. Our bodies’ antibody dependent enhancement mechanism, wherein the antibodies could actually cause the infections to worsen, could be at play. This is what happens during dengue fevers. The patient could have also been exposed to a more aggressive strain or a higher dosage of the COVID-19 virus. What is certain is that re-infection is possible and it could affect how we cope and deal with this pandemic.

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One of the main issues impacted by this study is the ongoing search for a COVID-19 vaccine. We need to clarify if there is such a thing as COVID-19 immunity and if it does exist, how long does it last? Akiko Iwasaka, a professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University, commented on the study. “As more cases of reinfection surface, the scientific community will have the opportunity to understand better the correlates of protection and how frequently natural infections with SARS-CoV-2 induce that level of immunity,” she said. “This information is key to understanding which vaccines are capable of crossing that threshold to confer individual and herd immunity.”

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