Can you be immune to Coronavirus or get COVID-19 twice? – Here’s what Medical Researchers say
Worldwide, COVID-19 has affected millions of lives with more than 533,015 positive cases and 24,095 deaths. In India, the virus has affected over 700 people and 17 deaths were reported. Amid this outbreak, fears have risen of a possible relapse of coronavirus. Can a person be infected with coronavirus twice?
As per news reports, a Japanese woman in Osaka has been reinfected with COVID-19. She first tested positive for the virus in late January 2020 and was discharged on Februay 1st after being treated but now, she has reportedly contracted it again. However, there are possibilities that it is a flare-up of the original infection.
In case this is true, how long can a person stay immune after recovering from COVID--19? Let us understand what the medical experts from around the world have to say about this.
Can an individual get COVID-19 twice?
Though infectious disease experts believe that COVID-19 patients will develop immunity, they are not sure. According to Art Reingold, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley, generally for many viruses, when people get immunity, they get it for life. The professor claimed that if he had to bet on it, he would think that if one gets infected with COVID-19, the individual would not be able to be infected again.
According to Dr. Stephen Gluckman, an infectious disease physician, it is likely that having the disease once will result in immunity among most people, as it is in the case of other coronaviruses. However, there is not much data to say the same about COVID-19 but it is likely to be the same.
If this is the case, people who initially recovered are likely to have a relapse of the infection, rather than getting re-infected. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the immune response to COVID-19 is not yet understood but it does not mean that it is not possible to contract the virus again.
CDC states that patients with MERS-CoV infection are unlikely to be reinfected shortly after they recover, but it is not yet known whether COVID-19 patients have similar immune protection.
How long can COVID-19 immunity last?
According to a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, it is still too soon to know how long people may be immune from the virus after having recovered from it once.
He stated that Inflammation appears to be a cause of severe Covid-19, which also helps in the development of immunity. However, he added that drawing any conclusion will be premature, as it requires more study.
Ideally, according to medical experts, immunity is for life such as it is in the case of measles but at the same time, there is also evidence of instances whether the immunity may wear off over time such as in case of influenza.
Explaining the same, Reingold said that people are prone to get the flu every year, as it is a virus that mutates often, creating infinite variations that can cause a person to fall sick again.
How can we make coronavirus immune response last?
According to epidemiologists, the key to an immune response is the development of neutralizing antibodies. As per George Rutherford, who is a professor of epidemiology, the antibodies appear in the body a day or two after the symptoms start showing and the research institutes are conducting tests that will detect those antibodies. The test is expected to be approved for local use soon. The test will help determine exactly how many people had the disease and currently have it including the was asymptomatic, mildly symptomatic and high-risk positive cases.
The medical experts, however, state that the immune response may be stronger for respiratory viruses such as COVID-19. Even in the case of the SARS outbreak in China in 2002, those infected had developed strong immune responses.