COVID-19 reinfection: can you catch the coronavirus more than once? What we know so far



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You won’t know if a second onset of symptoms is the result of a new infection or an old one, unless you’ve had multiple tests.

Amanda Capritto / CNET

For the most recent news and information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic experts wondered if a patient recovering from COVID-19 may contract the disease again. Although re-infections with coronavirus are rare, there are several documented cases where it appears to have happened. Scientists are particularly interested in these cases because they could tell us a lot about how the coronavirus makes people sick, as well as how vaccines could help end the pandemic.

There are also other considerations. For example, if you’ve recovered from COVID-19, do you still need to wear a mask when going out in public? Should you to get vaccinated when we become available or won’t you need it now?

Like many questions around the coronavirus, there is still a lot we don’t know. That’s why experts almost always recommend great caution when making decisions that could affect your health or the well-being of others.

Here, we tell you what doctors know and, just as important, what they don’t know about COVID-19 re-infection, including what to watch out for and what steps you can take to protect yourself. This article is intended as a general overview and not as a source of medical advice. If you think you might have COVID-19, here’s how to find a test site nearby.

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Patients are checked in for their doctor’s appointment outside the facility and are not allowed inside until they receive a message that the doctor is ready to see them. Free N95 masks were given to those who were about to enter.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Should I be concerned about being re-infected with COVID-19?

In most confirmed cases of re-infection, the patient has first tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, and then at one point it tested negative before testing positive for the second time. Although several dozen cases have been reported, they represent a very small percentage of the more than 45 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In other words, although re-infection can occur in very limited circumstances, it is not common. “Real world experience suggests that re-infections are very rare, but it would be interesting to see if there is seasonality of the virus with waning immunity next year,” said infectious disease specialist Dr Onyema Ogbuagu. at Yale Medicine, at Heathline.

Translation: It’s really not something you need to worry about right now.

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Recovering from COVID-19 may require bed rest.

Angela Lang / CNET

How do I know if I’ve been re-infected or if COVID has never gone away?

Some people who feel sick weeks or even months after testing positive for COVID-19 may still experience symptoms following the initial infection, also known as “long-haul”.

In other cases, doctors have performed genetic analyzes on virus samples taken from patients during the first infection and then again during the second. In cases where these samples showed genetically significant differences, the scientists concluded that they were separate and unrelated infections.

Unless you undergo extensive testing, you probably won’t know for sure whether a recurrence of COVID-19 is a bona fide reinfection or an example of a long-lasting coronavirus infection.

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In the waiting room of the doctor’s office, signs on each chair ask patients to refrain from sitting.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Are you better or worse the second time you get COVID-19?

Again, you will need the COVID test results to determine if your symptoms are related to your original infection or if they are new.

With most viruses, a second infection is usually milder than the first because the body has built antibodies against it. However, that’s not always the case, and doctors continue to reveal a lot about SARS-CoV-2. With some viruses, already having antibodies to the virus can actually make a second infection worse. Familiar examples are dengue and Zika virus.

For most patients who have had COVID-19 more than once, symptoms have generally been mild or absent with a second attack with the virus. But some patients’ second illnesses were actually worse than their first infection. It is too early to know for sure which reaction is more typical, and there are too few cases to study.

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It is difficult to tell whether symptoms of COVID-19 such as a dry cough and loss of taste and smell get worse or better with a second infection.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Am I immune to COVID-19 if I’ve had it once?

The immune system is a complex network of organs, tissues, and cells that work together to protect the body against disease. It does not have an on / off switch. On the contrary, there are different degrees of immunity against a particular pathogen or germ.

Doctors and scientists have so far avoided making strong claims about lasting immunity to COVID-19. Reinfection is unlikely for the first three months after testing positive for the virus, according to epidemiologists.

How does re-infection with COVID-19 affect a potential vaccine?

We won’t really know until one or more vaccines are approved and widely distributed, but doctors hope the coronavirus vaccines will give people at least enough immunity to be able to resume normal lives once enough people have been vaccinated. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, COVID-19 patients have so far not appeared to contract the virus a second time, giving scientists hope that a vaccine will work.

In fact, cases of coronavirus reinfection could help researchers better understand how best to distribute and administer a vaccine. For example, it may be necessary to give people regular booster shots, which boost immunity, until the virus is completely contained.

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Signage seen at Whole Foods in Asheville, North Carolina explains that they now require masks to be worn indoors and will provide one to customers if necessary.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Should I still wear a mask or social distancing if I have had COVID-19?

Every public health organization, including the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, recommends the same set of safety precautions for everyone, whether or not they have had COVID- 19 in the past. (The only exceptions are cases of active infections, which require even stricter protocols.) This means masks, social distancing, hand washing, regular cleaning of surfaces – everything the experts tell us to do since the start of the pandemic.

For specific details on this and more, here’s how to disinfect your home and car, where to buy the most popular mask styles and how to enjoy a safe restaurant meal during the pandemic.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended for health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.


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