Here’s how quickly you can be reinfected with COVID after being sick

Some months A few years ago, we thought that recovering from COVID-19 meant the odds of contracting the virus again so soon were low. Scientists thought we were protected for at least six months after the initial infection.

But now, as the hyper-transmissible variant of BA.5 circles the country, more and more reinfections are being detected in people who have had COVID once or even twice before.

“Reinfections are due to several reasons, including more relaxed safety precautions such as masking and social distancing, as well as declining antibody levels and additional viral mutations, which can lead to immune escape from sub -variants of omicron”, Pablo Penaloza – MacMasterassistant professor of microbiology-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and adviser to the Illinois Department of Public Health, told HuffPost.

In addition to SARS-CoV-2, there are four other coronaviruses circulating and causing the common cold. These viruses are known to re-infect people after an average of about 12 months. Although there was hope that we would eventually gain herd immunity to COVID, it appears that SARS-CoV-2 behaves like other coronaviruses we are exposed to year after year.

“Extrapolating from data with other coronaviruses, reinfections with SARS-CoV-2 variants are expected,” Penaloza-MacMaster said, noting that BA.5 also has several mutations on the spike protein that make it easier for the coronavirus to enter and attach to our cells. These mutations help it appear somewhat invisible to the antibodies our bodies have produced from previous infections and vaccinations.

“This creates higher risks for people who are less protected against any infection,” said Albert ShawDoctor of Infectious Diseases from Yale Medicine and Professor of Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.

It’s difficult to determine when people are likely to be reinfected, Shaw said. This timing largely depends on when you were last vaccinated or boosted, the state of your immune system, your age, and whether you have any underlying health conditions.

Which variant you were last infected with, and when, also impacts your risk of reinfection. A pre-publication study from Qatar recently found that the effectiveness of a pre-omicron infection (like delta or alpha) against a BA.5 infection was around 28% while the effectiveness of an omicron infection against a BA.5 infection was closer to 80%.

It likely has to do with how many vaccines people had at the time and when people got infected, according to Julie Parsonnetinfectious disease epidemiologist at Stanford Medicine.

“If you were infected with delta, you were infected relatively long ago, and if you were infected with omicron, you were infected relatively recently and that may mean that your immunity may be a little better just because it hasn’t diminished in time,” Parsonnet said.

Shaw said most people are probably still well protected for a few months, but beyond six months the immunity that prevents symptomatic infections likely declines significantly. Some people have been reinfected in as little as four weeks.

According to Parsonnet, no matter how many times a person has been infected, there is no way to ensure that they are 100% safe from contracting COVID again. “I don’t think there’s anyone who can say, ‘I’m immune – I’m just not going to get it,'” Parsonnet said.

While we can’t (yet) prevent reinfections, the vast majority of them will be less severe since the body has memory immune responses that will likely remain intact for years. Penaloza-MacMaster said that while symptoms depend on the person, they can involve headaches, difficulty breathing, coughing, fatigue, fever, among others — or no symptoms at all. Symptoms also depend on the variant and how much of the virus a person is exposed to, he added.

At the same time, reinfections – even if they are less severe – can lead to new health problems. A pre-publication study from the Washington University School of Medicine recently found that repeated COVID infections increase the risk of ongoing health problems — like lung and heart problems and digestive or kidney disorders — after infection. “The potential for some unpredictable consequences for these organ systems also likely increases with subsequent reinfections,” Shaw said.

Vaccines and boosters still do a good job of protecting us from serious consequences, even with newer variants. Vaccination triggers a more robust immune response against the severe consequences of COVID-19, which is why keeping up with booster shots is so crucial.

“It’s clear that vaccines and previous infections always protect against serious illness and serious illness, so that’s the silver lining,” Parsonnet said.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but advice may change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most recent recommendations.

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