Coronavirus: Is reinfection a reality? Who has a higher risk of reinfection? Doctors explain
While countries across the world carry out vaccination drives, medical experts are discovering a newer possibility of COVID reinfection.
So far, only a few hundred cases across the world have been identified but as experts opine, there is enough evidence to suggest that reinfection is a very real threat as we evade the resurgence of the deadly virus.
Low immunity, tapered antibody response, increased susceptibility to chronic infections, and not to forget, the risk of post COVID syndrome- there’s a lot of vulnerability even mild exposure to COVID could pose. Those with co-morbidity have been found to carry the highest danger.
Discovery of newer, far more infectious mutations have only added to the worry.
Now, newer studies have emerged which also suggest that people suffering from some form of pre-existing illness may not be protected for long against the virus.
Why is reinfection happening?
While there exists little clinical evidence, many experts believe that COVID reinfection could have different meanings at this point of time-be it traces of viral load remaining in the body, having a milder bout of infection or not building up on enough antibodies to mount a preventive response, a lot of different factors can leave a person vulnerable.
As of what’s really understood right now, a lot depends on the antibody response generated in the body.
How long do antibodies last in the body?
A person gains antibodies after infection, which helps the body mount a good defensive response in the future.
However, given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, it is difficult to ascertain how long antibodies last- and protect you.
From what is believed right now,
antibodies stay for 3-6 months following infection and healthy recovery. It may stay in a few cases, but start to fade after a while.
From the evidence which has now emerged, the presence of antibodies may also wane or stay consistent depending on the type of infection severity and pre-existing illness.
A study done by PGI, Chandigarh found that diabetics, in particular, have a higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19 more than once. Researchers found that those suffering from Type 2 diabetes, or diabetic patients infected by a mild form of the virus did not have sufficient antibodies after infection, and hence, have a higher risk.
Similarly, those with compromised immunity may also have impaired antibody response, which would leave room for COVID-19 to attack them again. In some cases, people might not develop antibodies altogether. An analysis of cases done between April and July found that patients with diabetes have a higher risk of side-effects, reinfection than those without diabetes.
We asked doctors to explain it to us, and the ways to prevent reinfection:
Dr S.N Aravinda, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Aster RV Hospital asserts that more than the co-morbidity, it is precautionary measures which determine your risk of COVID-19, and how strong your immunity is. Adding that healthcare and frontline workers are the most at risk, he says:
“Immune system reacts differently for each person infected by COVID-19, depending on the strength and amount of viral load they were exposed to, as well as their comorbidities. Some may develop a strong response, some may experience no symptoms, or in some rare cases, people can go through a major brunt of the virus upon reinfection. A lot of it depends on your immune response. If you have compromised immunity, be rest assured that the only things which will keep you safe are distancing, mask-wearing and good hygiene, even after you have recovered from the infection. Precautions will keep you safer for longer, while vaccination will get us closer to achieving herd immunity.”
Dr Pradeep Rangappa, Senior Consultant – Critical Care, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital Yeshwanthpur believes that 6-12 months after the viral infection are the most crucial for a person, adding that reinfection, even though rare is common with viruses like these:
Reinfection in all these viruses are common and it can happen within a year. Reinfection in all these viruses are common and it can happen within a year.
He also adds that patients who have asymptomatic infections are the ones who are at the most risk.
“Reinfection is common in patients with innate immunity. Asymptomatic or mild symptomatic patients are assumed to have this innate immunity. The second type, adaptive immunity happens when there is extensive viral replication in the body and they go through turbulent recovery, however they develop long-term immunity. The viral shedding that happens in COVID appears to be longer in asymptomatic patients and asymptomatic patients who have contracted COVID were found to have a low-level antibody. These are the patients who subsequently become a lot more vulnerable to reinfection.”
What raises the risk for COVID reinfection?
According to doctors, one of the biggest reasons for a higher reinfection risk right now is bad immunity.
Not only is
adopting preventive steps even after recovery important, but your immune response could also put you at a higher or lower risk for reinfection.
Dr Rangappa adds that waning immunity or insufficient adaptive immune response is one of the biggest causative factors for reinfection.
Taking the recovery period lightly, not following the course of medication can also be a red flag. Not only can a good treatment course help deal with some of the lingering post COVID symptoms, but the multivitamins and supplements also support vital functioning. Treatment can continue for upto two months time, so make sure you do follow it diligently. Here are some other post COVID care steps patients must take to support their recovery.
Wearing a mask, a habit should also be continued even after we do get a vaccine. They cut down on transmission risk, protect the contagious person and evade the passing of other respiratory viruses as well. Here are some other reasons why
we still need to use a mask even with a vaccine coming our way
How far will vaccines help us?
Vaccinations are beginning to pick up the pace globally and hailed to be the much-needed stop for the viral spread. Some also believe that vaccines will not just protect the ones who haven’t got the virus, but also the ones who have recovered from the dangers of reinfection.
Dr Randeep Guleria, AIIMS Director, in an interview recently talked of the benefits of mass-scale immunization against COVID transmission and reinfection, which is rumoured to start next week (January 13) in India.
“Even if one has recovered from Covid-19, they can still benefit from vaccination. There is evidence in hospitalised patients that the infection was so overwhelming that the immune response became exhausted and so immune memory to the virus was not created efficiently.
While authorities begin to chart and collate data of the ones who need vaccine shots on priority, here are some other reasons why even
recovered COVID patients need not skip out on getting inoculated.