Can people contract COVID-19 again after an initial contraction?
Answer from infectious diseases expert James Lawler, MD, MPH
The world’s infectious diseases experts have known about the COVID-19 pandemic for less than a year, so we still have much to learn about COVID-19 and immunity to the virus that causes the disease, SARS-CoV-2 virus. While most experts think that infection with SARS-CoV-2 produces immunity against reinfection in many people, we do not know how long that immunity may last. Recent data strongly suggest that some people can experience reinfection within a relatively short period of time (months). In at least one case, reinfection appears to have resulted in a fatality.
Short-lived immunity to infectious diseases is not a new concept and has been seen in many viral infections. In fact, several coronaviruses that are distantly related to SARS-CoV-2 are known to produce relatively temporary immunity. People can be reinfected with the same virus in subsequent years, like the common cold. Early studies of antibody production and T-cell responses suggest that immune response to SARS-CoV-2 remains robust in a large proportion of people recovering from COVID-19 for many months. This indicates that we may see protective immunity for a majority of people that could last for months or years. Still, we will need to follow people who have recovered from COVID-19 for a longer period of time to know for sure.
The bottom line is that reinfection has occurred within several months of initial infection; however, most experts think this is true for a minority of patients. Most people recovering from COVID-19 probably have relative protection that lasts months or years. We will know more when we can do more research and follow recovered COVID-19 victims for longer periods of time.
These are anonymous questions, meaning we can’t give one-on-one medical advice in this format. For medical advice specific to your unique condition, schedule an appointment at 800.922.0000.