Updated: May 27
Dear Asian Youth,
It's scary, I know. But yes, you can get reinfected with the coronavirus. This is a very broad statement. Recently, a 33-year-old man from Hong Kong was reinfected with the coronavirus. He was first confirmed to have COVID-19 on March 26 after having symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat and headache. Three days later, he was admitted into a Hong Kong hospital but by then his symptoms had already disappeared. After testing negative twice, he was then discharged on April 14. However, four months later, on August 15, he tested positive again. This time though, he was asymptomatic.
This phenomenon of him recontracting, but not showing symptoms can be explained by his body's learned immunity. The explanation is that a person builds immunity- in the form of antibodies- to a virus after initial exposure so that the next time it comes around, the body can properly respond and fight back. In his case, the body was able to prevent symptoms but not enough to prevent reinfection. People can be susceptible to COVID-19 again after a year or even less, however, the virus would cause the common cold whereas protection against SARS-1 and MERS lasts longer, for about a few years.
Kwok-Yung Yuen, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, In looking at the SARS-1 and MERS, discovered that the two viruses are differed by 24 nucleotides (nucleotides are sugar molecules attached to a phosphate group and a nitrogenous base, for example ATGCU). ScienceNews reported that, “those differences indicate that the man was infected two different times by two versions of SARS-CoV-2: one that is closely related to variants circulating in the United States and England in March and April, and another related to viruses from Switzerland and England in July and August.” In short, because they were different strains of the SARS-CoV-2 he was able to recontract it. Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at Rockefeller University in New York City and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute says it's “not a huge shock” that he was reinfected. Since they can be common, people often get reinfected with the coronaviruses that cause the common cold. This presents an issue regarding herd immunity and the time and sheer magnitude it would need to occur. Ultimately, a vaccine would be the most probable and effective solution.
Despite this, much is still unknown. Is he able to spread the virus to others now that he is reinfected? Even those with a strong immune response and no symptoms still have the chance of spreading the virus onto others. It's also unclear how reinfections happen globally because most people aren't being swabbed even when they are healthy. Regardless, everyone should be abiding by social distancing guidelines and continuing to wear masks in consideration of ourselves and others.
- Allison Li