Patients with prior history of Covid-19 have been shown to get reinfected, sometimes less severe and sometimes more severe than the first bout.1-3 What we don’t really know is how often reinfection actually occurs, either with or without symptoms.
Symptomatic reinfection with genetically distinct SARS-CoV-2 following Covid-19 has been reported from several countries, including the USA. 1 A case series of 4 patients (age range of 33-51 y) found the severity of second infection ranging from asymptomatic to more severe disease requiring hospitalization. First infection was mild in these cases with an intervening period of 48-142 days.1 BNO News, a Dutch website, lists many more “officially confirmed cases” as well as over a thousand “suspected reinfection cases”.4
Reinfection with Covid-19 in at least some people should not be too surprising. Some may have a suboptimal immune response to the first infection (eg with mild infection) that may be short-lasting, while others may have a better response. Even in those with adequate response, SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may drop rapidly (half-life 36 days according to one study).3 Immunity to several other seasonal respiratory coronaviruses (cousins of SARS-CoV-2) also seems short lived (as short as 6 months).5 How much other arms of the immune system besides antibodies (eg, T cell immunity) play a role in conferring longer lasting immunity remains unclear.
These findings suggest that we cannot rely on natural infection to provide us individual or herd immunity. Immunization is likely a better answer!
Bonus Pearl: Did you know that preliminary reports suggest that antibody loss with Covid-19 is more rapid than that found for SARS-CoV-1, the agent of SARS pandemic of 2003?3
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- Iwasaki A. What reinfections mean for COVID-19. Lancet Infect Dis 2020. Published online October 12, 2020. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30783-0/fulltext
- Tillett RL, Sevinsky JR, Hartley PD, et al. Genomic evidence for reinfection with SARS-CoV-2: a case study. Lancet Infect Dis 2020. Published online October 12, 2020. https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/laninf/PIIS1473-3099(20)30764-7.pdf
- Ibarrondo J, Fulcher JA, Goodman-Meza D, et al. Rapid decay of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in persons with mild Covid-19. N Engl J Med 2020; September 10. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmc2025179
- Kunzman K. Contagion Live. October 12, 2020. https://www.contagionlive.com/view/us-reports-first-confirmed-covid-19-reinfection-patient. Accessed Dec 23, 2020.
- Edridge AWD, Kaczorowska J, Hoste ACR, et al. Seasonal coronavirus protective immunity is short-lasting. Nature Medicine 2020;26:1691-93. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32929268/
Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliate healthcare centers. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!