You can get reinfected with COVID-19, but because the U.S. is lagging in the field of genetic sequencing, we have little data how frequently this occurs.
According to Kaiser Health News, other coronaviruses cause reinfection. The common cold is a case in point. But so far, fewer than 50 cases of COVID-19 reinfection have been documented by a global reinfection tracker and only five cases have been confirmed in the U.S.
A case study published in The Lancet revealed that a 25-year-old man in Washoe County, Nevada, suffered two episodes of COVID-19, one in April and the second at the beginning of June 2020. Genetic testing showed that the viruses that caused his two bouts of COVID-19 were different, so it was not a case of one prolonged illness. In fact, the second time around he had a worse outcome from the disease.
Researchers said that while infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, does elicit an immune response, we do not know why some people are still susceptible to infection or how long immunity lasts.
According to Mic, our lack of knowledge about the novel coronavirus makes it difficult to predict how the human immune system will respond even if antibodies are present to combat the disease. The Nevada incident was not isolated as another distinct case of reinfection was noted in South America. That person was also reportedly sicker the second time around.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published guidelines on what constitutes reinfection. According to the CDC, people who develop symptoms of COVID-19 more than 90 days after the initial infection may potentially be reinfected. The agency suggests that test specimens from each infection are analyzed to see if the genetic sequencing differs. A variation of genomic sequencing would suggest reinfection and not a continuation of the original illness.
But according to KHN, the U.S. does not have the capacity for aggressive genetic sequencing. Worldwide, we rank 43rd in nations that perform these tests consistently. However, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that sequencing has increased “tenfold” in recent weeks. The agency wants to ramp up efforts and test 6,000 sequences each week by the middle of February.
Experts note that increasing genetic sequencing will not only shed light on the number of COVID-19 reinfections in the country but will also help track the presence of mutations or variants of the virus. And scientists say we may find indications there will be no clear-cut return to normal, according to KHN.
“The idea that we will end this pandemic by beating this coronavirus, I don’t think that’s actually the way it’s going to happen,” said Dr. William Messer, an infectious disease expert in Portland, Oregon. “I think it’s more likely that we’re going to learn how to be comfortable living with this new virus circulating among us.”
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