Covid-19 re-infection cases raise concerns over immunity

Published October 14, 2020
Personnel administer coronavirus tests in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US on Oct 2. — Reuters/File
Personnel administer coronavirus tests in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US on Oct 2. — Reuters/File

LONDON: The case of a man in the United States infected twice with Covid-19 shows there is much yet to learn about immune responses and also raises questions over vaccination, scientists said on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old from Reno, Nevada, tested positive in April after showing mild symptoms, then got sick again in late May with a more serious bout, according to a case report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal.

The report was published just hours after US President Donald Trump, who was infected with Covid-19 and hospitalised earlier this month, said he believes he now has immunity and felt “so powerful”.

Scientists said that while known incidences of re-infection appear rare — and the Nevada man has now recovered — cases like his were worrying. Other isolated cases of re-infection have been reported around the world, including in Asia and Europe.

In the Netherlands, the National Institute for Public Health confirmed on Tuesday that an 89-year-old Dutch woman, also sick with a rare form of bone marrow cancer, had recently died after contracting Covid-19 for a second time.

Dutch media said this was the first known case worldwide of a death after SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus re-infection.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that re-infections are possible, but we can’t yet know how common this will be,” said Simon Clarke, a microbiology expert at Britain’s Reading University.

“If people can be re-infected easily, it could also have implications for vaccination programmes as well as our understanding of when and how the pandemic will end.” The Nevada patient’s doctors, who first reported the case in a non peer-reviewed paper in August, said sophisticated testing showed that the virus strains associated with each bout of infection were genetically different.

“These findings reinforce the point that we still do not know enough about the immune response to this infection,” said Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2020

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