Newly saddled with the baggage of COVID-19, reinfection has taken on a more terrifying aspect, raising the specter of never-ending cycles of disease. It has sat at the center of debates over testing, immunity, and vaccines; its meaning muddled by ominous headlines, it has become wildly misunderstood. When I ask immunologists about reinfection in the context of the coronavirus, many sigh. I don’t blame them...
But infection is a two-player game, and a change in either contender can affect the dynamics of a second confrontation. On occasion, the body’s immune strongholds might weaken and crack. Or a microbe might alter its surface until it’s unrecognizable to the host that once fought…
Will the danger mount each time, or will it fade away?
Experts have warned that exposure to the coronavirus — through vaccination or infection — does not mean that you are completely protected from future infections. Rather, the coronavirus is evolving to behave more like its closely related cousins, which cause common colds and infect people repeatedly throughout their lives.
The investigators concluded that COVID-19 primary infections were more severe than reinfections. They also found infections were more severe when unvaccinated than once vaccinated against COVID-19. “These findings add additional support for supporting national vaccination programs, as vaccinations can contribute to protection against severe infection,” the study authors wrote.
The risk of reinfection is likely to depend on a range of factors: for example, data suggests it is higher in unvaccinated people and potentially in those whose previous infection was more mild with a lower immune response.
Yes, but it is still a bit of a mystery as to who gets reinfected and how often it occurs. This is because immune responses can wane in some people, meaning that even if you’ve built up a defense against the virus once it doesn’t mean that defense lasts forever.
Although it is difficult to make conclusions from studies only involving small numbers of people, the authors of the CDC report note that most of the reinfections occurred in unvaccinated children.
There’s emerging evidence (in preprint) of people being reinfected multiple times. This, though, shouldn’t be surprising, as we know the other human coronaviruses cause reinfections every few years.
This study’s suggestion that prolonged immunity to the novel coronavirus must be “determined at the individual level” is a clear indication about how much we still have to learn.
Experts say reinfections don’t mean the vaccines — and our immune systems — aren’t doing their jobs.
It comes down to how much risk you’re willing to tolerate.
Scientists have learned from previous variants that an infection can act like a booster, in terms of the protection it offers (albeit a booster you acquire the difficult, dangerous, uncomfortable way).
The most important question for reinfection, with the most serious implications for controlling the pandemic, is whether reinfected people can transmit the virus to others.
Understanding how and for how long people can shed SARS-CoV-2, and which factors increase the risk of viral shedding or reinfection, can help us to improve surveillance and reduce the rate at which the virus spreads.
Despite the general confusion and anxiety, the main takeaway is not to panic and to use your common sense – kind of like if you had norovirus. If you’re coughing like a chain-smoker, maybe do a PCR, and maybe don’t turn up feverish to the function.
Reinfections usually appear to be mild in otherwise healthy people, doctors say. But some reinfections are serious, and it’s not clear what the risk of long Covid might be. People who had a milder first infection with a lower viral load were at higher risk of being reinfected...
The virus can take many paths to reinvading a person’s body. Most of them shouldn’t scare us.
After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19. We are still learning more about these reinfections.