More than 38 million people worldwide have been infected with the coronavirus, and as of Monday, fewer than five of those cases have been confirmed by scientists to be reinfections.
Nevertheless, fears of repeat bouts of illness, impotent vaccines and unrelenting lockdowns were raised anew when a case study about a 25-year-old man in Nevada was published on Monday. The man, who was not named, became sicker the second time that he was infected with the virus, a pattern the immune system is supposed to prevent.
And rare as these cases may be, they do indicate that reinfection is possible, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, who wrote a commentary accompanying the Nevada case study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
The New York Times asked more experts what is known about reinfections with the coronavirus.
It’s impossible to know how widespread the phenomenon is, they told us. To confirm a case, scientists must look for significant differences in the genes of the two coronaviruses causing both illnesses. In the U.S., many people were not tested unless they were sick enough to be hospitalized. Even then, their samples were usually not preserved for genetic analysis, making it impossible to confirm suspected reinfections.
Plus, a resurgence of symptoms doesn’t prove reinfection. More likely, these are people experiencing symptoms connected to the original infection.
But people with a second bout may pass the virus to others. An infection in a patient in Hong Kong was discovered only because of routine screening at the airport, and the man was isolated in a hospital even though he had no symptoms. But his viral load was high enough that he could have passed the virus to others.