First Confirmed Case of Coronavirus Re-infection

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Hong Kong has reported a confirmed case of re-infection of the Coronavirus.  A 33-year-old man who caught the disease back in late March, was infected again four and a half months later when traveling to Europe.  This case is now making researchers and medical professionals question the durability of immunity protection from the virus.

This isn’t the first report of a reinfection, however none prior have been confirmed.  This case has been documented by researchers at the University of Hong Kong.  They sequenced the virus from the patient and found that the infections did not match, meaning the second case is separate from the first.  The researchers at the University of Hong Kong said, ““This is the world’s first documentation of a patient who recovered from Covid-19 but got another episode of Covid-19 afterwards.”

Since this is only the first confirmed case of a reinfection, some experts are cautioning that this patient may be an outlier in the millions of reported cases around the globe.  Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization, said “There’s been more than 24 million cases reported to date, we need to look at something like this at a population level.”

More data and studies suggest that this may be an outlier due to the fact that most people who recover from coronavirus actually build a stronger immune system with T cells and Antibodies.  This research which has been going on for some time now, made most experts believe that people would be protected from the virus for a while after recovering.  The problem goes back to what the man traveling in Europe experienced, a different virus essentially. There was a difference of 24 nucleotides between his two infections.  It had been suggested that the virus has been changing and evolving, now we see to what extent.  

This news brings up concerns for the vaccine research.  It raises questions such as – For how long will a vaccine protect people? Will the vaccine protect against multiple strains of the virus? And will the vaccines trigger a strong enough immune response?

A bit of good news from this however is that researchers believe second cases of the virus will be generally milder in terms of symptoms.  In the case of the man who traveled to Spain and then back to Hong Kong, this was true as he did not have any symptoms at all.  Still the fact that he had contracted the virus and was able to spread it after recovering once already, is troublesome enough.

Malik Peiris, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said he does not find reinfection reports surprising.  He continues, “The reinfection didn’t cause the disease, so that’s the first point. And the second thing is that it is important to know whether the patient mounted a neutralizing antibody response to the first infection or not. Because the vast majority of patients in our experience do mount a good neutralizing antibody response. So, is this person an outlier or is he likely to be the average person infected?”

These are the questions we need to start asking while we keep an eye out for any more confirmed re-infection cases.  This is an ongoing story and we will be sure to bring more updates as we have them, so be sure to check back to the ABN blog regularly.

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