Like the latest COVID-19 increase starting to decline in the united states, some people may find themselves recovering from a coronavirus infection or even relating toinfection.
This is because as the virus mutates and protection decreases, it becomes more possible to be re-infected by coronavirus. But experts say that while getting COVID-19 may provide some protection against a future coronavirus infection, it is much safer to rely on vaccines and boosters for that protection instead.
Can you be re-infected with coronavirus?
Yes, it is certainly possible to get COVID-19 more than once.
“Even before the virus began to turn into different variants, even with the original strain circulating, there were already many documented cases of people becoming re-infected, “Dr. Otto Yang, told Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and in Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA TODAY.
This is not very surprising considering that we can become infected and re-infected by the common pre-COVID coronaviruses that cause colds within a year, he said.
As several variants appear, reinfections only become more likely because these variants can potentially evade the immune protection we already have. “If you had delta, you could get omicron – for sure,” Dr. Bernard Camins, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Mount Sinai Health System, TODAY reported. And the reverse is also true; if you had an infection with the omicron variant, you can still get delta. This is because “the nail protein in the delta variant is very different from the nail protein in omicron,” Camins said.
coronaviruses peak protein is what the virus uses to infect human cells. Antibodies that you may be developing after a previous COVID-19 infection “must bind to a really specific area of the tip protein to block the virus,” Yang explained. If the tip protein keeps changing in significant ways, antibodies are then not able to do their job of protecting you from infection.
So can you get omicron more than once? Earlier in the pandemic, there were certainly cases of re-infection with the same variant. But when it comes to omicron reinfections specifically, it’s something researchers are still figuring out. And we probably will not know how common that scenario is for a few more months, Camins said.
How serious are COVID-19 reinfections?
In general, reinfections are milder than the original infection, no matter what variants you are infected with, experts said.
And even if you get infected with another variant a second time, do not necessarily expect more severe symptoms. This is partly because, even though your antibodies are not able to gather adequate protection against getting infected, the protection from your T cells – another major player in the immune system – will still help protect you from the most serious consequences of the disease, even if you become infected, Yang said.
“T cells are not limited by recognizing any area of the tip,” he said. “They are not really affected that much or at all by different variants. They should act just as well mod omicron in relation to delta in relation to the previous variants. “
But Camins notes that what experts may define as a “mild” infection can still feel subjectively awful – and, of course, cause disruption to your daily life. “In most cases, the symptoms are less severe, which means your likelihood of death or serious illness is lower,” he said. However, if your symptoms make you miss work for an extended period of time, or it takes you a few weeks to recover, “it’s still quite significant,” even if it does not send you to the hospital.
And there is still the small chance that you may experience severe symptoms or complications – or that you are spreading the virus to someone with a weakened immune system or other underlying condition that puts them at a higher risk.
How long does immunity from a previous COVID-19 infection last?
As the experts explained above, having COVID-19 in the past will to some extent protect you from re-infection in the future.
In general, experts said you will need some protection for about three to six months after a COVID-19 infection. But the protection you get from this type of “natural immunity” can be unpredictable, Yang said.
People who have more severe bouts of COVID-19, which means that people who are hospitalized, typically end up with more robust protection against the virus, he explained. But on the other hand, it probably also means that they have a risk factor that made it more likely for them to get COVID-19 once – and people in that situation really do not want to get it again.
And one CDC study published in November underscores how much better it is to get protection through vaccination than infection: Among 7,300 patients admitted with symptoms such as COVID-19, those were unvaccinated but had previously had the disease. five times more likely to be tested positive for the infection than those who had been vaccinated (and had no record of a previous COVID-19 infection).
Of course, there is a risk of getting that protection through infection long-term consequences of COVID-19 as well as hospitalization and even deaths. So if you had COVID-19 and have not been vaccinated, it is still worth getting shots to protect you in the future.
What can you do to prevent re-infections?
To prevent COVID-19 re-infections, you can use the same public health strategies which we know can help prevent an initial coronavirus infection. It includes getting vaccinated and boostedwearing a mask in public (especially one N95 or KN95 respiratorsaid Camins), to be tested when appropriate and with a focus on ventilation.
However, some people are more likely to get COVID-19 and therefore also get it more than once. It includes those with certain underlying conditions, or who are taking medications that suppress the immune system, such as those with uncontrolled diabetes or autoimmune diseases, as well as those undergoing chemotherapy.
By reducing the amount of viruses circulating in your community, you and those around you will become more secure, including those who may have risk factors that may make COVID-19 more serious for them. “It’s not necessarily just about you,” Yang said. “It may be that you have had mild covid, and that if you become infected again, it will be mild covid. But we as a society should think of everyone.”