While it has been widely assumed that once a person is infected with coronavirus, they cannot get reinfected with COVID-19, a new case study not only shows that this might not be the case, but that there seems to have been individuals already suffering from COVID-19 reinfections.
Medical journal The Lancet reports that a 25-year-old man from Nevada looks to have been infected with COVID-19 on two several occasions. The unnamed man was found to have COVID-19 at a community testing event in April 2020, then at a primary care facility at the end of May and beginning of June was found to have been reinfected by COVID-19. Between these two tests, the person also received two negative tests during follow-up sessions in May of 2020.
There have been relatively few cases of COVID-19 reinfections so far, as scientists try to learn more about the disease. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has found a handful of reported incidents from Hong Kong, Belgium, Ecuador, and India. While it has been assumed that a COVID-19 reinfection would likely be a weaker attack, The Lancet’s study says that isn’t necessarily the case. “The second infection was symptomatically more severe than the first,” which also lines up with the man from Ecuador who was reinfected with the virus.
In a post from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated in September, the CDC says, “There are no confirmed reports to date of a person being reinfected with COVID-19 within 3 months of initial infection. However, additional research is ongoing.” Yet an article from Medscape not only mentions the man from Nevada, but that a 42-year-old man in Virginia has also been reported with COVID-19 reinfections, as has a third case in Washington of a 60-year-old, which has not bee peer reviewed yet.
“We need more research to understand how long immunity may last for people exposed to Sars-Cov-2 and why some of these second infections, while rare, are presenting as more severe,” said the lead author of the Nevada study, Mark Pandori. “So far, we’ve only seen a handful of reinfection cases, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more, especially as many cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic. Right now, we can only speculate about the cause of reinfection.”
For months, there have been reports that there haven’t been enough COVID-19 tests widely available, which could be a major reason why there are such low known occurrences of COVID-19 reinfections. With early testing especially making it hard for individuals to take a COVID-19 test at all, taking follow-up tests could be a major reason why the number of COVID-19 reinfections is so low.
It’s also not clear if these COVID-19 reinfections – if they do grow in number – could delay a possible treatment or vaccine. Already it’s unclear what the future of a theoretical treatment would be. In an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, as reported by The New York Times, co-founder and chief executive of Regeneron said of their experimental drug treatment that “We have to figure out ways to ration this.”
Currently, there is enough of this treatment to help 50,000 patients, but as The New York Times states, on Saturday, October 10, 2020, there were 51,000 newly reported infections in the United States. President Trump has recently called Regeneron’s drug a “cure” and that he would distribute this treatment to Americans for free to those who need it. Trump also said in a tweet on October 11, 2020 that after his own infection he can’t get it, which was flagged by Twitter for violating the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19.