From transmission concerns to treatment options, questions continue to emerge as we navigate the novel coronavirus. As the state emerges from quarantine and restrictions begin to lift nationwide, a new question is topping search trends: Can you get COVID-19 more than once?
As of yet, it’s not known whether those who have been infected with COVID-19 will develop long-term immunity to the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the immune response, including the duration of immunity, to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) is not yet understood.
You may have heard media reports about people who have tested positive for COVID-19 after recovering from the illness, but it’s difficult to say whether these individuals tested positive as a result of a second infection. While it’s still possible, it’s more likely that detectable levels of the virus still remain in the body even after the symptoms have gone away.
What Role Does the Immune System Play?
When a virus or bacteria enters your body, your immune system kicks in. Specialized immune cells, called B-cells, identify proteins, called antigens, on the surface of invading cells. When a B-cell detects a new antigen, it produces antibodies that bind to the antigens, which attracts other cells that destroy the target. When your B-cells produce a new antibody, they can continue making that antibody if that same antigen appears in the future. This is called adaptive immunity.
When it comes to viruses, much is still unknown about why some people’s immune systems can clear a virus quickly while others can take weeks. Some experts believe that older people with weakened immune systems may be more susceptible to a resurgence of COVID-19, but more research is needed before any conclusions can be made.
The Bottom Line
South Korea recently reported that a significant number of COVID-19 patients have tested positive, then negative, only to test positive again later and experience symptoms, like fever and cough, again.
Health officials there suspect that these patients are experiencing a viral reactivation, but health officials in the United States don’t think that’s likely since we’ve never seen a viral reactivation in other coronaviruses.
The bottom line is that we need more research to know for sure.
In the meantime, continued preventive measures, such as wearing a mask, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and, if necessary, self-quarantining, are the best defense against infection.
Don’t put your health on hold.
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