Most of the scientific community upholds that once you’ve had COVID-19, you gain some minimum level of immunity to the virus. What many researchers have been waiting to find out, is the degree to which that immunity can work, and how long that it can last. Does it last for just a couple of months, a couple of years, or (too good to be true) a lifetime?
And now, all these months after the pandemic began, the University of Hong Kong has reported the world’s “first case” of re-infection.
A 33-year-old man in Hong Kong contracted COVID-19 for the second time this year. In his first onset, he experienced all the regular symptoms including a sore throat, cough, headache, and fever for three days, following which he was confirmed positive on March 26.
The second time around, he showed no symptoms. On August 15, upon his return from Spain to Hong Kong, via the UK, the man tested positive at the airport’s entry screening. He was hospitalized but showed no symptoms.
Since the patient got re-infected after only 4.5 months, it can be concluded that the immunity gained from his first infection was neither strong enough not lasted long.
While reporting to CNN, the research team studying this case wrote,
“Our findings suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may persist in humans, as is the case for other common-cold associated human coronaviruses, even if patients have acquired immunity via natural infection or via vaccination."
The research team then threw caution not just to people who’ve never had COVID- but also to those who’ve been infected before. The team said,
“Patients with previous COVID-19 infection should also comply with epidemiological control measures such as universal masking and social distancing."
Much research remains to be done to understand this novel virus that continues to mutate and behave differently in people, across ages, locations, and upon re-infection. At this point, we can only say one thing for sure.
Since the re-infection can happen, being infected naturally is not likely to eliminate the virus. The only safe way to achieve immunity for everybody is through vaccination. Until then, sit tight, and keep taking precautions — maintain social distancing, wash your hands frequently, and wear a mask.