Can A Person Get COVID-19 Twice?
To say that COVID-19 is a flu-like condition would be completely deceptive. The latest researches have acknowledged that the response to the SARS-CoV-19 virus is very variable. Some people do not exhibit any symptoms but for others, it may present with symptoms from mild flu-like to severe respiratory distress. Moreover, it not only affects the respiratory tract, but it damages all the organs of the body, be it the gastro-intestinal tract, heart, kidney, brain, and even blood vessels.
An unfamiliar deadly virus:
One of the important things to keep in mind is that once the SARS-CoV-19 virus infects a person, it takes its time to complete the cycle because it is a viral infection. Whatever damage, permanent or treatable, that happens in the body during the course of the virus dictates the outcome. And since it is a novel virus, there is still much that needs to be learned about its modes of action and treatment options. Until now, multiple treatments have been tried and researched to some extent, but none of them have given definitive results.
Prevention is better than cure:
So, with the dreadful implications associated with the virus, it is necessary to maintain the sanitization and distancing regulations recommended by the authorities. This not only prevents the exposure to the virus and the loss of precious lives and resources, but it also prevents the multiplication and changes in the viral genetic material that lead to newer strains. These newer strains are usually expected to have higher infectivity and damaging behaviors than the original virus.
The human body has two types of immunity in the body:
1. Innate immunity- rapid and broad-spectrum immunity. It is made up of white cells and the chemicals that cause inflammation in response to an unidentified organism that enters the body.
2. Adaptive immunity- long-term immunity, which targets and identifies foreign organisms. The specialized white cells take at least 10 days to make the antibodies against the viruses and bacteria. Then these antibodies either remain in the body for years and protect from the same infections in the future or maybe lost after some time. An example of such immunity would be chickenpox, which happened once may never happen again; or measles, where immunity is induced by vaccines and is lifelong.
Immunity with COVID-19:
The same immunity systems also work for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Innate immunity starts working right away, resulting in inflammatory symptoms like fever.
The adaptive immunity is identified with the initial antibodies, IgM, that start to appear 2-3 weeks after the infection. The later antibodies, IgG, appear some 4 to 6 weeks after the initial infection and should ideally remain for some periods. But coronavirus has not been around for so long that we know exactly how long the immunity actually lasts. Lots of cases have been identified who have protracted the virus again after a gap of a few months. But there was a doubt that maybe the people who supposedly had contracted the virus a second time were never free of it since the first infection.
Theories behind Re-infection:
The swab test, which identifies the SARS-CoV-19 genetic material, does not recognize if the material is present in a dead virus or a live one. This makes it difficult to tell if it is a re-infection or the remains of the previous infection.
The possibility of re-infection is also linked with the concept that the viral genetic material changes over time with every replication. In easier terms, when coronavirus makes copies of itself, it accidentally makes errors in the genetic material. Every few cycles of copying give it a slightly altered genetic material. So, even when a person has had COVID-19 once and has the antibodies, they are still at risk of getting infected again. But this time it would be with a different strain because the previous antibodies would not recognize the new viral material.
Another strong theory behind re-infection is that every individual immune system gives a somewhat different response to infections. Every patient of COVID-19 eventually develops the antibodies but they are not globally equal in number and competency. Thus, a patient with a low number or less competent immune system has the risk of catching the virus again.
The COVID-19 re-infection maybe, like the first interaction, asymptomatic or full-blown infection. Due to the overt replication and emergence of new strains, it will be difficult to control them with the vaccines. Every new strain may need a new vaccine or maybe a booster shot every year, similar to the flu virus and its vaccines.
COVID-19 has been a cause of much disturbance in recent times. Any person already infected once has the risk of contracting the virus again, because of the variable individual immunity and alterations in the genetic material of the virus. All persons positive or negative, tested or non-tested for COVID-19 should take measures to stop the spread of infection and protect each other. If a person has contracted the virus once, they should be more vigilant in keeping their distance and maintaining sanitization.