At Least Three Coronavirus Reinfection Cases have been reported, from patients in Hong Kong, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In contrast to the more anecdotal reports of Covid-19 reinfection, these cases all used genetic testing, comparing the virus of the first and second cases, which showed that they were two distinct infections, and not a prolonged bout with the same coronavirus strain.
How Long Between the Original Covid-19 Infection and Reinfection?
In the case of the Hong Kong patient, a 33-year old man, his original infection in Hong Kong was in late March-early April, and he tested positive 4 months later on August 15 for a new strain of Covid-19 after a trip to Spain and the UK.
We don't yet have details on the Netherlands patient, for patient privacy reasons, but the Belgian patient, a woman in her 50s, who was infected in March, was reinfected by a new Covid-19 strain in June, just 3 months later.
How Severe Was the Original Case vs. The Reinfection?
While we don't yet have many details on the Belgian patient's original coronavirus case, it appears to have not been severe enough to have produced many antibodies; the reinfection is said to have been mild.
In the case of the Hong Kong patient, during his earlier infection in March, he had the classic Covid-19 symptoms of cough, fever, sore throat, and headaches, although he did not develop any detectable antibodies. He was asymptomatic during his reinfection in August.
Other coronaviruses are known to reinfect humans, with antibodies lasting from a few months for common cold coronaviruses to 2-3 years for MERS. It's therefore not surprising to find that humans can be reinfected by Covid-19 and that recurring vaccinations may be required. That's the bad news, along with the many serious conditions that afflict some patients both during and after their initial infection, especially those who experience chronic illness for weeks or even months afterwards.
The potential good news is that reinfection may be milder, even if few antibodies were produced in response to the first infection. The body's T cells and B cells can also be critical in retaining a memory of the original infection, helping to make subsequent infections milder. It will be interesting to see more data points as they become available from other true reinfection cases.
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