In July, a 27-year-old woman from Bengaluru had tested positive for COVID-19. She had ‘mild symptoms’ but had made a full recovery, and was discharged after a subsequent test came out negative. Unfortunately, she has been reinfected barely a month after her first bout.
“In the last week of August, she developed mild symptoms again and has tested positive again,” Pratik Patil, an Infectious Diseases Consultant at Fortis Hospital’s Bannerghatta Road facility said in a statement. “This is possibly the first reported case of COVID reinfection in Bangalore.”
In May, a 50-year-old Delhi cop had tested positive for the virus. After being treated at the hospital, he tested negative and was discharged. He subsequently rejoined work as well. On 10 July he fell sick again and when he was tested for COVID-19, his results came out to be positive, again.
Telangana and Maharashtra have also reported cases of reinfection and across the globe countries like Hong Kong, US, Netherlands and Belgium have had cases of people getting re-infected.
While this is worrying, The Better India spoke to Dr Vishal Rao, an Oncologist with HCG cancer centre, Bengaluru, and Dr Rifa Tazyeem Khan, Clinical Epidemiologist, YR Gaitonde Center for AIDS Research and Education, Chennai, to understand what reinfection means, and what precautions we can take to stay safe.
“The first reported case of re-infection was from Hong Kong and since then there have been less than ten known cases, which has been investigated and documented,” says Dr Khan, adding that none of the re-infected patients, so far, have shown any severe symptoms and some of them have even been asymptomatic.
Explaining how the immune system works, Dr Khan says, “If you have had a high viral load, which means that you will have a strong immune response and your body will remember that infection for a longer time. However if you have had a very mild infection, your immune response will be weak and probably the longevity of that immune response will not be as good as someone who has had a severe infection.”
Dr Rao mentions, “We know from global data that almost 20 per cent of the people can get re-infected with COVID-19.”
According to him, a weakened immune system, or in general lower levels of immunity are key reasons why there is a risk of reinfection. In addition, he says that false positives during testing of the first “infection” could also be a contributing factor for the “re-infection” statistics – though in reality the patients have contracted COVID-19 for the first time.
Is there a way to stay safe?
Dr Rao says, “Having antibodies in your blood is not a sure shot way of keeping the infection at bay. Therefore even if you have tested positive and recovered from COVID-19, you ought to continue taking the same precautions that you did before you got infected.”
One must focus on building a strong immunity, ensure daily exercise — especially breathing focused moves — eat nutritionally packed meals, which include proteins, vitamins, fibres and minerals in your daily diet, and to have a good fluid intake through the day.
“Since we do not have the answers yet – as a general thumb rule, continue to follow the social distancing norms and keep yourself protected,” he advises.
Click here to watch Dr Vishal Rao speak about re-infection and the precautions one should follow.
What does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say on re-infection?
According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at this time, we do not know if someone can be re-infected with COVID-19. Data to date show that a person who has had and recovered from COVID-19 may have low levels of virus in their bodies for up to 3 months after diagnosis. This means that if the person who has recovered from COVID-19 is retested within 3 months of initial infection, they may continue to have a positive test result, even though they are not spreading COVID-19.
There are no confirmed reports to date of a person being re-infected with COVID-19 within 3 months of initial infection. However, additional research is ongoing. Therefore, if a person who has recovered from COVID-19 has new symptoms of COVID-19, the person may need an evaluation for reinfection, especially if the person has had close contact with someone infected with COVID-19. The person should isolate and contact a healthcare provider to be evaluated for other causes of their symptoms, and possibly retested.
Like healthcare professionals in India, the CDC also recommends following all social distancing norms, wearing masks when outdoors or with other people, and frequent washing of hands.
Stay safe and stay indoors as much as possible.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)