The first confirmed case of coronavirus infecting the same patient twice has raised doubt around the development of antibodies, but experts say we shouldn’t be too alarmed.
The first lab-confirmed case of coronavirus reinfection has been discovered in Hong Kong. A young man caught the virus four months ago, but has since been confirmed as having a second episode of the infection.
The abnormal case has now raised immunity fears of the virus, leading scientists to believe that a vaccine is further off than we all may have speculated.
Samples from the case were taken for testing at the University of Hong Kong. The results, derived from genetic sequencing, found that the second episode was actually caused by a different strain of the virus. Researchers had hoped that the man’s immune system would have recognised the infection early on and fought off the virus with ease the second time around. However, it seems this was not the case.
“Our findings suggest that Covid-19 may persist in the global human population, as is the case for other common-cold associated human coronaviruses, even if patients have acquired immunity via natural infection,” Dr Kelvin Kai-Wang To and his University of Hong Kong research colleagues said in a statement, as reported by The Guardian.
Researchers document first case of #coronavirus reinfection, 4.5 months after the first. This suggests immunity may last only a few months https://t.co/g7un8FsL39 via @nytimes #Covid19 pic.twitter.com/a6ny9b90ED
— André Picard (@picardonhealth) August 24, 2020
The man, aged 33, was unaware that he had contracted coronavirus a second time when he flew into his Hong Kong hometown from Spain on a flight via the UK. He tested positive upon entry into Hong Kong airport on August 15 and was taken to a nearby hospital where he remained until he tested negative.
Doctors confirmed that the case wasn’t just the same virus lingering in the man’s system. “Viral shedding” as it’s been termed, is when the virus lingers in one’s body over an enduring period of time. One notable case involved a pregnant woman being diagnosed with the same infection 104 days after first contracting the virus.
But what’s even weirder is that this man never showed any symptoms of coronavirus the second time around. When he was infected in March, he showed all the common first signs: a fever, cough, sore throat, and headache. Within three days, he felt better and recovered quickly.
“It’s not surprising that we are going to see cases like this, but there is no evidence to date that this case represents a common occurrence,” said John Swartzberg, an infectious disease specialist at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. https://t.co/IgsgTRYTFi
— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) August 25, 2020
The strain found inside the Hong Kong patient aligned closely with one which has been revolving around Europe over the past two months. While some researchers appear alarmed by the rare case, others seem far less worried.
Brendan Wren, professor of microbial pathogenesis at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, described that it should be “expected” that the virus would “naturally mutate” over time, and that this is example of reinfection was actually quite rare.