Is reinfection with COVID-19 real? What does it imply for the world?

Coronavirus is not only a new and deadly one but also a confusing virus. It causes no symptoms, mild to moderate symptoms, severe symptoms, and deaths. Sweden started its no-lockdown policy based on the assumption that the virus does not cause a reinfection. Some countries are insisting on tests and immunity passports to travel. But do these passports really imply that the person holding it cannot get a second infection? All these are big questions with really no answers.

Reinfection and coronavirus

Coronavirus causes a varied presentation. Patients were thought to have been cured after they tested negative for the virus. Scientists earlier believed that these patients would have be safe against a second infection. This formed the basis of Sweden’s no-lockdown policy because they wanted to increase herd immunity for the virus in their country.

Coronavirus (Source: TOI)

But soon reports emerged that patients who had negative tests are again testing positive for it. Doctors and laboratories reasoned it out saying that this was due to some part of the virus left in the tissues but which is not infective. They also added that it could be a false positive report since tests have their limited specificity and sensitivity.

True second infections of coronavirus

But now doctors are increasingly reporting from countries worldwide that they have not only seen cases of positive tests for coronavirus after the initial clearance. But now these cases are also coming with symptoms. And that these second time symptoms are more worse than the first time around. Therefore, the virus is behaving like the other previous viruses infecting mankind such as dengue fever virus.

Coronavirus reinfection [Source: CGTN]
Additionally, some of the patients are also getting persistent symptoms. Their infection never really cleared off and they continue to have chronic problems due to the virus. These are long-haulers and they have now formed their own social media groups to discuss and support each other.

What does all this mean for the community?

Health authorities are increasingly reporting cases of reinfection of coronavirus. This means that the antibodies or cell-mediated immunity which develop with the first infection is inadequate for subsequent infection. It also implies that this antibody response probably wanes off in a few months’ time. And that the second infection is more worse is not a good news either.

Therefore, hopes of some countries to enhance herd immunity to the deadly virus might just be a dream which will remain unrealized. It also means that people who let down their guard after the first infection should not so so and be careful despite the first infection. Also, it is a big NO to COVID parties since it gives rise to reinfection and in a more worse form.

Also, read WHO cautions people that presence of antibodies in blood to coronavirus does not imply protection from a reinfection!

Coronavirus [Source: Hospimedica]
This is also bad news for vaccine developing companies and institutes. Since the protective antibodies are not actually protective against the virus, would the vaccines help in prevention of it? So, with the current scenario, the only option is to follow the set of protective measures which WHO and CDC are telling since day 1 of the pandemic-hand hygiene, social distancing, and face masks!