Are survivors of COVID-19 actually immune from getting it again?

Reporter: Veronica Marshall Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
COVID Testing 3
St. John’s Well Child & Family Center workers prepare to test a woman for COVID-19 at a free mobile test clinic set up outside Walker Temple AME Church in South Los Angeles amid the coronavirus pandemic on July 15, 2020 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Survivors of the COVID-19 virus are just thankful to be alive, but new research shows that claims survivors can’t be reinfected may be false.

Ron Rice recounts his experience with the coronavirus as scary.

“My blood pressure was only 80 over 40 and my temperature was … I believe it’s like a hundred seven or eight,” said Rice.

As difficult as that was for Rice, he still feels lucky that he survived. Especially since his brother didn’t.

“Unfortunately, my brother died,” Rice said. “Basically, his organs started [to] shut down while he was on the ventilator. There wasn’t anything they could do.”

But many survivors like Rice thought they could take solace in the fact that they can’t be reinfected with COVID-19.

However, a new report out of Hong Kong says just because you’ve been infected once doesn’t mean you can’t be infected again.

One 33-year-old recovered from the virus and then tested negative. Four and a half months later, he began testing positive again.

Researchers say mutations in the virus are partially to blame for this.

The evidence seems pretty conclusive in this particular case that this person did get re-infected with SARSCoV-2, but a different strain,” said Dr. Bindu Mayi, professor of Microbiology at NSU’s College of Medical Sciences.

Health and medical professionals also say they don’t know how long immunity lasts or if it is ever developed in the first place.

There’s been some concern that maybe people who are asymptomatically infected may not have as much of an immune response or as robust and immune response as those who had symptoms of COVID-19,” added Dr. Cindy Prins, epidemiologist from the University of Florida.

So the best thing to do is be safe, whether you’ve contracted the virus already or not.

I’m very leery of catching again. I wear masks everywhere I go. I have sanitizing wipes and gloves in my vehicle,” Rice admits.

Now Rice is waiting for his antibody test so that he can donate his plasma to help others that may get infected.

This is one of the first – if not the first truly convincing – cases of reinfection, which can be confidently assigned as such on the basis of the differences in the genome sequence of the virus during the first bout in the spring and the second on return from Spain. Other apparent reinfections have in my opinion been due to dodgy tests or very long courses of disease including a hiatus when viral load drops before a resurgence. When interpreting this case, I’d bear the following in mind – we do not know yet how often this happens. HK has very good testing and is extremely well-poised to identify any events like this. Other parts of the world, not so much. So the fact it *can* happen needs to be interpreted in the context of whether it happens *often* enough to make a difference. It seems the second infection was less symptomatic than the first, which might be important. But the question of whether the second infection was just as transmissible as the first one is not clear. We will need to study many more such cases to be definitive,” – Dr. William Hanage, with Harvard University


Report: World’s First Case of COVID-19 Re-Infection
Press release from HKU Dept of Microbiology

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