With a rising death toll and over three million confirmed cases around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is the worst health crisis to occur up till now. On the other hand, combination treatments have also been successful in treating a significant number of patients with coronavirus infection. However, another concern now is the risk of getting re-infected.
There is not enough medical literature to know whether the novel coronavirus can re-infect a person after he has recovered but previous research has indicated that getting infected within a year is common in the case of other coronaviruses.
For instance, a study looked at eighty-six people who tested positive for coronavirus-related infections. In the same year, twelve out of those had the same infection again but the researchers examined only four kinds of coronaviruses which are known to be endemic and not anywhere near as dangerous as COVID-19.
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The researcher Jeffrey Shaman, who is also a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, explained that such coronaviruses are different and the infections are easy to overcome.
Infected people usually do not even need to consult a doctor in the majority of the cases. Therefore, the behavior of the novel coronavirus or the SARS-CoV-2 is unclear and researchers are not sure whether it will turn into an endemic.
Since the SARS-CoV-2, it is difficult to look for cases of re-infections and examine the behavior of the virus. The only way to predict whether a re-infection can occur is by studying previous coronaviruses and their frequency as well as the time period patterns.
In the aforementioned study, Shaman and a fellow researcher Marta Galanti assessed data of one hundred and ninety-one people New York City, all of who were healthy and had no serious medical condition. The study was held from the year 2016 to 2018.
During this time period, the participants were required to give nasal swabs on a regular basis. In addition, they were also asked to report any infection-related symptoms such as respiratory signs including difficulty in breathing.
Eighty-six out of the total were diagnosed with a coronavirus-related infection at least once during the period. Out of these participants, twelve to fourteen percent had a similar infection again either at the end of the year or in the following year.
There are no reports on any changes in the symptoms of the patients. So, it is not known whether they were milder, worse, or even different from the first infection at all. These findings are currently undergoing peer review and have not officially been published.
At the moment, Shaman himself has raised a number of other questions such as whether or not the twelve re-infections were repeat infections or not since positive test results after weeks of having the infection usually diagnose the virus from the previous infection.
The professor of health policy management at City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health, Dr. Bruce Y. Lee explains how there is a similar issue with the testing used for COVID-19. Many patients test positive for the infection again within weeks after their recovery.
According to Lee, the problem in the case of COVID-19 lies with the test. On the other hand, Shaman highlights the positive tests in the study came months and not weeks after the participants had recovered from their previous infections which means it is more likely to be a re-infection.
Generally, it is hard to make a comparison between the coronaviruses in the study and SARS-CoV-2. The closet infections to COVID-19 can be SARS, also caused by a coronavirus.
Research on SARS showed that people developed antibodies for fighting the infection for up to two years. However, antibodies are not enough to ensure immunity, as Shaman explains. Further research is required on COVID-19 as it is relatively new and cannot be compared fully to any virus.