Can you get COVID-19 twice? It’s possible, but experts say it’s ‘quite rare’
The resurgence of COVID-19 cases has some concerned about reinfection, which health experts consider “quite rare,” but also cautioned the second time has often been worse than the original infection.
According to BNO, a Dutch international news agency that has been tracking reinfections, there were 25 reinfections globally between Aug. 24 and Nov. 10, and only two in the United States.
“Sporadic cases of COVID reinfection have been reported, but these remain rare,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, associate medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health. “A lot of reported reinfections are actually lingering positive tests from the initial infection.”
That might have been the case with two Connecticut incidents that were pointed out by state Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport. Rosario tweeted last week to caution constituents about the dangers of COVID-19 infection — and, possibly, reinfection.
“Just heard that two people I know have contracted COVID-19 for the second time,” Rosario tweeted. “Guys, this is not a joke. Protect yourselves, keep your social distance and #WearAMask.”
Rosario said one of the individuals lives in Bridgeport and one in Stamford. He said they were both originally infected in March, and recently began having COVID symptoms before testing positive again.
But at least one expert said it’s unlikely that these were true reinfections, since there is a fairly high threshold for reporting reinfection.
“It appears in true cases of reinfection, the patient has been infected with a different strain of the virus, which is determined by genetic testing,” said Dr. Zane Saul, chief of infectious disease at Bridgeport Hospital who said reinfection is “quite rare.”
“We know that people may continue to test ... positive for an extended period of time after their initial test. The majority of the time, this represents dead or inactive virus picked up by the test.”
But when reinfections do occur, they need to be taken seriously, according to Dr. Faiqa Cheema, an infectious disease specialist at Hartford Hospital. In many of the reinfection cases reported worldwide, Cheema said the second infection was more severe than the initial one.
That was true of the first known case of COVID-19 reinfection in the United States. The patient was a 25-year old Nevada man who had no known immune disorders.
According to an article in the American Journal of Managed Care, the man tested positive in April for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. He was mildly ill, and he subsequently had two negative tests after the initial positive one.
In June, he began experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, headache, dizziness, cough, nausea and diarrhea. The man tested positive for COVID again, needed oxygen and was hospitalized, the report said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed COVID reinfections are rare, but “is actively working to learn more about reinfection to inform public health action.”
The CDC reports that reinfection also occurs with other coronaviruses — the class of viruses that includes COVID-19, but also SARS, the common cold and other illnesses. The center cited a Kenyan study that found that 4 percent to 21 percent of people infected with endemic coronaviruses had two or more episodes of infection with the same virus species during a six-month period.
Rosario said he hopes everyone will take COVID-19 more seriously.
“A lot of folks are being cautious, but a lot are like, ‘It’s a hoax. Not a big deal,’” Rosario said. “But, at the end of the day, when they get it, they’re like, ‘This is not a joke.’ It’s like people are waiting to experience it firsthand before they start advocating (to) wear a mask.”
Staff writer Brian Lockhart contributed to this report.