The coronavirus pandemic has spread to 178 countries, infected 247,400 people and killed more than 10,000. Patients testing positive for the virus twice have been reported on two occasions, including a Japanese tour bus guide, and according to Reuters, similar incidents were previously documented in China.
Can you catch the same virus twice?
On March 16, the Government’s chief scientific adviser and its Chief Medical Officer both sought to reassure the UK population.
Sit Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty said those who have had the virus once would develop immunity to it via antibodies.
They added that it was rare to get an infectious illness like coronavirus twice.
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But the case of a Japanese woman being declared virus-free then testing positive later left scientists scratching their heads.
When Sir Patrick was asked on March 16 if that case in Japan ruled out herd immunity, the scientific adviser said some people do catch infectious diseases a second time before reasserting it was rare.
He added there was no evidence to suggest that it would occur with COVID-19.
Li QinGyuan, the director of pneumonia prevention and treatment at China Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing told USA Today that those who have been infected with coronavirus develop a protective antibody, though it’s not known exactly how long the protection lasts.
Dr Li said: “However, in certain individuals, the antibody cannot last that long
“For many patients who have been cured, there is a likelihood of relapse.”
Children are thought to be less susceptible to the virus and Dr Li said it causes the development of “at least short-term immunity” among the younger generation.
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The antibody produced to fight the coronavirus will hold the key in determining whether it’s possible to catch the same virus twice.
Emeritus professor of infectious diseases at Brighton and Sussex Medical School Jon Cohen told The Guardian: “The answer is that we simply don’t know [about reinfection] yet because we don’t have an antibody test for the infection, although we will have soon.
“However, it is very likely, based on other viral infections, that yes, once a person has had the infection they will generally be immune and won’t get it again.
“There will always be the odd exception, but that is certainly a reasonable expectation.”
One outcome that could make reinfection easier is a mutation of the virus.
Mutation can also complicate matters when it comes to developing a vaccine.
Scientists have confirmed the virus has already evolved into two strains: the ‘L-type’ and the ‘S-type’.
The latter is the older version of the virus and appears to be milder and less infectious.
Virologist Professor Jonathan Ball said earlier in March: “At the moment we don’t have hard evidence that the virus has changes with regards to disease severity or infectivity so we need to be cautious when interpreting these kinds of computer-based studies, interesting as they might be.”
Dr Peter Jung, an assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston told The Huffington Post: “But just as the flu can mutate, so could COVID-19, which would make an individual susceptible to reacquiring the infection.”
He added: “No one knows for sure, but most children likely develop at least short-term immunity to the specific coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”
However, according to Dr Stephen Gluckman, an infectious diseases physician at Penn Medicine and the medical director of Penn Global Medicine said it seems likely that having the disease once results in immunity in most individuals – as is seen with other coronaviruses.
He said: “Coronaviruses aren’t new, they’ve been around for a long, long time and many species – not just humans – get them.
“So we know a fair amount about coronaviruses in general.
“For the most part, the feeling is once you’ve had a specific coronavirus, you are immune.
“We don’t have enough data to say that with this coronavirus, but it is likely.”
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