The possibility of reinfection once the period of COVID-19 disease has passed is a debate that has been taking place since the start of the pandemic. We show you all the updated information on the subject.
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The coronavirus causing COVID-19 and the possibility of reinfection are in the crosshairs of all global media and laboratories. Understanding the disease is essential to be able to fight it.
Data such as incubation period or surface survival are becoming clearer and allow concrete measures to be implemented. Still, we continue to face a major dilemma in the face of this pandemic: Can a recovered person be reinfected?
This question is not only essential to avoid infections, but also to predict the dynamics of the pandemic in the long term. The most widely used epidemiological model , the SIR model, does not contemplate the possibility of reinfection . It assumes that a recovered person is immune to the disease, not being able to transmit it to other healthy people.
If this parameter varies and a recovered person can be reinfected in a short period of time, current predictions would not represent the actual future scenario . In this space we show you what is known so far about the subject.
Failed tests or reinfection?
Bad news comes to us from Asia: official sources in South Korea warn that, as of April 12, they have had to readmit in hospitals 111 cases that were believed to be cured .
The immune system recognizes harmful antigens that enter the body and remembers past infections . This is called ‘ acquired immunity ‘. Once the pathogen is remembered, the following exposures to it should allow our body to act quickly to eliminate it, thus avoiding reinfection.
In other types of coronaviruses, immunities of months and even years have been detected once the disease is overcome. So how are the South Korean figures possible?
In an interview with Time magazine , the doctor David Hui, specialized in respiratory diseases such as SARS and MERS, indicates that it may be due to detection errors: «the sample may not be adequate and the test is not very sensitive to disease”. Thus, an infected person could test negative for human error .
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The remains of the enemy
Viruses use human cells to multiply . They hijack our replication mechanism and use it to replicate themselves, multiplying their genetic material. Based on this, we have another one of the theories to explain the ‘reinfection’ so early.
The most sensitive tests could detect remains of the virus’s RNA in our body , even though the disease had been overcome. This remaining RNA can sound the alarms, but the possibility that it is such a small proportion that there is no real danger of contracting the disease again is considered.
A study conducted in China with more than 250 ‘recovered’ patients yielded the following results:
- The 15% of patients positive to againafter being discharged.
- Of this percentage, the majority were young people who had shown mild symptomsduring the illness.
- Generally, they were not symptomatic when testing positive on the second test.
This could cement the previously described theories. There may still be genetic information about the enemy in our body, but that does not mean that we are still sick .
To know more: Coronavirus detection What is a PCR?
Reinfection: will we be immune after becoming infected?
The answer is sad but simple: it is too early to know . We have been little more than four months of exposure to this disease, so there is not enough information about immunity against the virus.
Still, preliminary studies yield hopeful information . A study carried out on monkeys showed that, after overcoming the disease and being exposed to the virus again, they did not re-infect themselves. At no time should these data be taken as an absolute reality, as they are studies carried out on different species and have not yet been officially published.
Despite all the reservations, there is no reason for negativity. Humans have an excellent immune system that has been proven effective once exposed to similar diseases such as SARS.
Prevention is the best cure
Given this lack of information, the only thing we can do is to avoid the possibility of infection in the first place . Measures such as social isolation, increased teleworking, and border closings aim to minimize exposure to the virus.
This is the essential key in the current situation. By following the measures imposed, we gain time and allow research organizations to predict and fight the virus more easily.