There has always been a lot of doubt about how long the antibodies developed in humans after being infected with COVID-19 would last and whether a person recovering from an infection could get the virus again or not. This doubt permeates even the vaccine development process: even if a safe and effective vaccine is ultimately found, would it be able to provide long-term immunity in vaccinated persons. Now, the first confirmed case of a COVID-19 reinfection in Hong Kong reaffirms this doubt. A 33-year-old man in Hong Kong got COVID-19 positive in late March 2020 and recovered in the first part of April. Then in August he visited Spain and while returning to Hong Kong he was found positive again at the airport. In the first he was symptomatic while he was asymptomatic in the second infection.
Hong Kong researchers did a genome sequencing on the patient and confirmed reinfection, revealing that in the first instance he was infected with the prevalent Asian strain of SARS-CoV-2 and in the second he was infected with a different stain, the European type which was perhaps due to the second wave being experienced in Europe. The second strain was found to be milder, and this has led the scientists to believe that if an infected person gets the Coronavirus again, which is also believed to be rare, the infection is likely be of a milder kind thanks to the natural immunity already developed through the first infection; however, research at the present stage does not suggest anything definite. On earlier cases of suspected reinfections experts mostly dismissed those as primarily due to the residual viral load in the patients. But the Hong Kong case comes as the first ever confirmed case of reinfection.
Other cases of reinfection have also been surfacing in Europe and India, almost simultaneously with Hong Kong. A woman in Belgium was found to be positive again and an elderly person in the Netherlands got re-infected. Virologists of respective countries confirmed the cases. Suspected reinfections have also been reported from Gujarat and Telangana in India. A woman was tested positive a second time in Ahmedabad while two cases of reinfections were reported from Telangana. All these cases are under study now.
Although scientists and experts say that COVID-19 reinfections need not necessarily be a cause for worry or alarm they don’t deny the possibilities or the implications of this phenomenon either: that COVID-19 can persist with humans like a cold flu and the winter season could trigger a stronger resurgence; the fact that on average 3-4 months of intervals are seen between the infections in these cases, the duration of the natural immunity developed or the duration of the antibodies comes under a cloud; the reinfection phenomenon also neutralizes the possibility of herd immunity, even the harder way. To make matters worse, there have also been reports in Malaysia about a mutated Coronavirus strain that is ten times more infectious than the reigning ones. Besides, one still does not know the probable virulence of different strains invading different countries.
In short, the biggest ever crisis to hit humanity continues to grip planet earth with its loads of uncertainty and unpredictability as scientists all around the globe are working day and night to learn more and more about the killer virus, in the minimum of time. The pandemic is ravaging various countries with impending economic doom, educational crisis, sociology-cultural crisis and so on. The World Health Organization has sounded a big warning that there could be no going back ever to the normalcy humankind is familiar with and therefore, countries must make the strategies and measures of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic permanent. The only hope for now rests with the arrival of a safe and effective vaccine that can guarantee long-term immunity, as soon as possible.
Chinmay Chakravarty is a professional specialized in the creative field with over two decades of experience in journalistic writing, media co-ordination, film script writing, film dubbing, film & video making, management of international film festivals and editing of books & journals. Proficient in providing professional services in these related fields. Was an officer of Indian Information Service and superannuated from the post of Director, Press Information Bureau, Kolkata in November, 2019. Published his first solo book ‘Laugh and Let Laugh’ in 2017.