A new study of healthcare workers digs into rates of COVID reinfections, after having the disease a first time
Suffering symptoms again in the few months after is rare – and it appears that those who recover have some immunity for at least five months
However, in this time, people could still carry and transmit the virus
Sticking to the rules and exercising extreme caution are therefore key
If you incurred COVID-19 at any point in the pandemic thus far, it's likely you've wondered if, once you recovered, you might have antibodies to protect you from round 2, for a little while.
According to a new study titled SARS-CoV-2 Immunity and Reinfection Evaluation (SIREN), released today, if you have been infected, it's likely that you get some immunity for around five months – but it's possible that you can still transmit the virus to other people.
'We now know that most of those who have had the virus, and developed antibodies, are protected from reinfection, but this is not total and we do not yet know how long protection lasts. Crucially, we believe people may still be able to pass the virus on,' Professor Susan Hopkins, Senior Medical Advisor at Public Health England and the study lead said.
The work shows that a previous infection gives approximately 83% protection in that time frame. However, you could still carry the virus in your nose and throat, which is how you could still pass it on to others. Plus, if you were infected in the first wave, it's highly likely that you are now back in the zone in which you can pick up the disease.
'One extremely important message from this study is that the antibody protection after infection lasts for five months on average, but we don’t know how long it will last beyond that time. It is therefore possible that many people who were infected during the first wave of the pandemic may now be susceptible to re-infection,' said Prof Lawrence Young, Virologist and Professor of Molecular Oncology, Warwick Medical School.
'Evidence from previous studies with common cold coronaviruses indicates that this re-infection is unlikely to result in severe disease but may mean that re-infected individuals are able to spread the virus.'
The work, which is a preprint (has not yet been through peer-review or published in a health journal) comes from Public Health England. The body has affirmed that: 'It is vital that, with cases at their highest level to date and the R number above 1 across the country, people do everything that they can to avoid the risk of transmitting the virus to other people.'
What are the key findings?
Antibodies from past coronavirus infection reduce the risk of reinfection by 83% for at least five months
Antibodies from past coronavirus infections reduce the risk of symptomatic reinfection – in which you have noticeable symptoms, such as a cough, fever and loss of smell and taste – by 94%, for at least five months
However, while this may protect you from incurring the symptoms of COVID-19, you can still carry and transmit the virus
So, continue to follow the rules and exercise extreme caution
What does this mean for vaccination?
Nothing – even if you have had COVID, you'll still be offered the vaccine, when it's your turn. 'These results are not surprising as we already know that other coronaviruses – including SARS-COV-1 and MERS-COV, as well as seasonal common cold coronaviruses do produce long-lasting antibodies post-Infection,' says Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor/Clinical Virologist at University of Leicester. 'Having the vaccine after recovering from COVID-19 is not an issue or contraindication.'
Because your antibodies will wear off, and due to the chance that you could infect others, even while you have them, getting inoculated is still key, when it comes to working our way out of restrictions.
So, what now then?
It's welcome news that, if you've suffered with the disease recently, you're unlikely to be laid up with it, again, for a few months at least. However, you could still be a possible transmitter, so staying on top of the rules is imperative – especially given the current rates of infection and deaths.
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