How new variants may impact your chances of COVID reinfection

Last year, it seemed that reinfections with the coronavirus were rare. Yes, they did happen, but the vast majority of people who had COVID before were unlikely to get the virus again anytime soon.

But recent data suggests that reinfections are becoming more common, especially as new variants take hold. The New York Department of Health recently released a report this shows that just over 4% of all COVID infections in the state have been reinfections — and nearly 87% of those have occurred since December 2021. washington state reported that 45,312 people had reported reinfection since September 2021 – 2.3% of them were hospitalized and 0.2% died.

The rise in reinfections is likely influenced by two factors: first, new variants can evade the antibody response and reinfect themselves, and second, we are now documenting reinfections more rigorously and getting a more accurate picture of their frequency.

Coronaviruses are known to infect people over and over again. In fact, the common cold coronaviruses circulating today (and frequently reinfecting people) are widely believed to have originated from previous coronavirus outbreaks. Many infectious disease doctors suspect that, as with these strains, we may be susceptible to reinfections, but the symptoms will become milder and milder over time.

“As our T cells diversify and enlarge, we hope that our second reinfection will not be as severe as the first infection,” said Monica Gandhiinfectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Here’s how long reinfections can occur with COVID now.

We now know that antibodies, which work to prevent infection in the first place, are starting to dip some months after vaccination or infection. Also, as the coronavirus mutated, it became a little less recognizable by the immune system.

Because of this, the variants are able to thwart the immune system’s first line of defense and re-infect us, according to Julie Parsonnetepidemiologist and professor of infectious diseases at Stanford University School of Medicine.

“With omicron, we are seeing many cases in people who were previously infected, even when they had also been vaccinated,” Parsonnet said.

“With omicron, we are seeing many cases in previously infected people, even when they had also been vaccinated.”

– Julie Parsonnet, epidemiologist and professor of infectious diseases

Pablo Penaloza – Mac Masterassistant professor of microbiology-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said people who have recently recovered from an infection or received a booster may be susceptible to reinfection in about six months.

Parsonnet noted that she had heard of at least one patient fully vaccinated and given a double injection of omicron six weeks after their previous infection.

A recent study of Denmark found that, although very rare, reinfections with omicron subvariants can occur in as little as 20 days. Of the 1.8 million infections recorded between November 2021 and February 2022, 1,739 reinfections were detected in 60 days.

This does not mean that a few months after your recovery, there is a good chance that you will contract COVID again. In fact, a pre-publication study recently found that infections in people who have had COVID in the past were 90% less common than in people who had never been infected. Being infected on top of the vaccine really boosts your antibody level, and that should protect most people from infection for at least four months, Gandhi said.

Identifying who is most likely to be reinfected is not an exact science – some people will be better protected and less at risk of reinfection depending on factors such as their age, genetics and underlying health. The rate of reinfection also depends on the variant — the type of mutations the virus has detected — and the viral load a person is exposed to, according to Penaloza-MacMaster.

Reinfection tends to be less severe.

The bulk of the evidence suggests that COVID reinfections, in general, tend to be less severe than the initial infection. In Danish studyalmost everyone who had been re-infected with BA.2 after previously having had BA.1 had mild symptoms for a few days and significantly reduced viral loads the second time around, even those who were not vaccinated.

Even though our immune system weakens over time, the components that keep us free from disease and serious results remain robust and long-lasting (even when treat with new variants).

Reinfections, especially in vaccinated people, are generally milder compared to the primary infection because there is already an arsenal of memory T cells and B cells,” said Penaloza-MacMaster.

To research suggests that reinfections and boosts improve T-cell response. “As you’d expect, reinfection basically protects you even more” from serious consequences, Gandhi said. Of course, reminders are the safest – you don’t want to be deliberately re-infected.

According to Penaloza-MacMaster, the severity of an individual’s reinfection is also influenced by the variant they contract as well as the dose of virus they are exposed to and whether they have underlying health conditions that put them at risk. in danger. But, often, it can be unpredictable.

How will reinfections impact long COVID?

One of the key questions that epidemiologists will follow is how reinfections contribute to the long duration of COVID.

We know that COVID affects many organs, including the brain, lungs and heart. Inflammation, which helps remove infected cells from the body, is part of the body’s normal response to infections. When the body kills cells infected with the virus, it also destroys our own healthy cells.

“Eclearing a virus involves a substantial amount of ‘collateral damage’, which is one of the main reasons why long-term inflammation – which occurs during prolonged infections – is harmful,” said Penaloza-MacMaster.

If and hHow reinfections contribute to long COVID and the potential damage to our organs is unclear. To research found that vaccination reduced the risk of long COVID in people who had a breakthrough infection, Gandhi said. And while the vast majority of people who contract SARS-CoV-2 recover well with no long-term consequences, it’s not yet clear if this will continue to be the case after multiple infections.

“We don’t know the answer to that question, especially because the variants change and our immune system reacts to them differently, their impacts on the body change a lot,” Parsonnet said.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but advice may change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most current recommendations.

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