The main issue with the coronavirus is that since it’s a new strain, there’s no prior research on it. No vaccine, no data on how it manifests and no records of how the virus develops.
This has created a lot of uncertainty in the medical world, whether that is related to finding the most effective treatment to combat it or the quest to develop a vaccine for it.
One of the hopes of combating the virus and reducing its spread has been herd immunity. Herd immunity refers to the percentage of the overall population that has become immune to a given pathogen. It is hoped that once about 70% of the population is immune to the virus, SARS-CoV2 will struggle to continue transmitting. This will eventually curb the transmission of the pandemic.
However, this concept relies on the assumption that people infected with the virus once won’t develop it again, owing to the fact that their bodies have now developed antibodies to combat COVID-19.
But in reality, this may not be the case. A female tour bus guide in Japan who tested positive for the virus after recovering from a COVID-19 infection. Her’s is not the only case though. A Chinese man reported the same situation, wherein he tested positive for the novel coronavirus days after being discharged from the hospital.
This has raised questions about the initial assumptions. Do you indeed get immune to COVID-19 after contracting it once? If yes, for how long does the immunity last?
Well, there’s no concrete answer to this as of now, due to a lack of research on the subject. However, there are several theories, including past data of related coronaviruses that can provide insight and give you some idea whether it’s possible to get coronavirus twice in your lifetime.
In a study published in a 2007 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a research team in, China, followed 176 patients who had had severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). On average, SARS-specific antibodies remained at the same level in a patient’s blood for about two years. Then, during the third year after infection, antibody levels tended to drop rapidly. This suggests that immunity to the SARS virus may remain for two to three years with reinfection possible after three years.
Another angle to look at is has been propagated by Prof Chris Whitty, Boris Johnson’s chief medical adviser. By stating that even if there is no long-term immunity, there is normally some short-term immunity that can help you from getting the virus again any time soon. Coronaviruses aren’t new. Only the new strain of the virus that has plagued the world hasn’t ever been seen before. The consensus with respect to it is that once you’ve had a specific coronavirus, you are immune to it.
However several reports also suggest that it’s too soon to know how long people may be safe from the virus, even after their system has fought it off. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently explained how the immunity response to COVID-19 is not yet understood.
One more thing essential to understand is that someone testing positive twice for COVID-19 doesn’t essentially mean that he/she had contracted the disease twice. It could simply be a case of a false positive/ false negative in one of the tests. Another probable explanation of such cases could be that infection simply lasted a long time in the patient, rather than it being a case of reinfection.
Whether or not you get coronavirus twice could also be dependent on the strength of your immune system. When your immune system contracts a particular virus for the first time, it isn’t prepared to combat it. However after you have already been contracted with the diseases once, it develops suitable antibodies to fight the virus. This is essentially how vaccines are developed as well. Thus, relapse of COVID-19 cases could also be restricted to people with weaker immune systems.
As of now, there’s no conclusive evidence that guarantees that a person infected with COVID-19 cannot be re-infected. As research on the virus develops further and we get more information about the novel coronavirus, it is better to take all precautions necessary to prevent yourself from catching it.