Omicron broke what we knew about reinfections.

Initially, enduring COVID had a redeeming quality: it gave you some short-term immunity to further infection.

But the new omicron subvariants break this trend. BA.5, which now accounts for 66% of COVID cases in Florida, has caused more people to catch COVID for the second or third time than previous strains.

BA.5 is known to have a structure maximized to evade immunity and to be transmitted from person to person more easily than other sub-variants of the omicron family.

Here’s what you need to know about reinfections.

Emerging research shows that the percentage of reinfections is increasing.

Helix, which sequences COVID-19 tests to monitor variants, found that out of nearly 300,000 infections since March 2021, the share of reinfections nearly doubled to 6.4% during the BA.5 wave in July, against 3.6% during the BA.2 wave in May.

Helix data shows that most reinfections in July occurred in people with COVID in 2021.

Experts expect the rate of reinfections to continue to rise for two main reasons: BA.5 is highly contagious and the majority of the country – and Florida – has already contracted COVID-19 at least once.

Early in the pandemic, strains like delta were not replaced as quickly by newer variants, and people with COVID enjoyed some protection against reinfection for several months. But now, new strains are sweeping the country one after another.

Just since April, BA.2, BA.2.12.1 and now BA.5, have alternately been the dominant strain. Thus, Floridians who had an earlier omicron variation in the spring could be vulnerable to reinfection with a different strain circulating this summer or fall.

As a nation, no one knows the true extent of reinfections because people are testing at home or not testing at all.

However, researchers are confident that the chances of getting COVID again are higher if you had the virus or your last vaccine dose before 2022. Shishi Luo, associate director of bioinformatics and infectious diseases at Helix, said his data shows on average, people who are reinfecting themselves now were last infected about nine months ago.

Does that mean that if you’ve had COVID-19 in the last few months, you probably won’t have it again this summer or fall?

This answer differs depending on who you ask.

A new study supports the idea that prior infection with omicron might offer some protection against BA.5., the newest strain. When analyzing COVID-19 cases recorded in Qatar between May 7 this year – when BA.4 and BA.5 first entered the country – and July 4, researchers found that prior infection with omicron was 79.7% effective in preventing BA.4 and BA. 5 reinfection and 76.1% effective in preventing symptomatic reinfection.

“Basically, you’re seven times more likely to be reinfected if your previous infection was before omicron,” said Dr. Michael Daignault, an emergency physician at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif. protects you from other omicron sublines to some extent, but nothing is 100%. »

Daignault also referenced a new Danish pre-print article published this week that shows high protection against BA.5 in people who were triply vaccinated and had previous omicron infection. Daignault said he first had COVID-19 in June and was not worried about reinfection, at least for now. “I am a healthy young man, triple vaccinated and recently infected. I feel well protected.

However, many experts believe that the risk of reinfection varies from individual to individual. In some parts of the country, cases of reinfection are reported as early as a month.

Some Florida seniors may find themselves in this situation, said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Florida International University.

“Your chances of reinfection may depend on whether you have been vaccinated and are up to date with your booster, the status of your previous infection and how far away it is, as immune defenses tend to weaken over time. “, she said. “It could also depend on your age and your underlying health conditions.”

Trepka said even with immunity to recent infection, circumstances play a part in whether you get COVID again. “If you have a fleeting encounter with someone outside, you would be exposed to a lower viral load than if you were living with an infected person who has a higher viral load.”

Doctors are seeing evidence that symptoms tend to be milder and shorter if you get COVID-19 a second or third time, but it’s hard to say firmly that this will be the case for everyone. You may still have a fever and experience exhaustion, sore throat, brain fog, and other symptoms.

Dr. O’Neill J. Pyke, chief medical officer at Jackson North Medical Center, said he contracted the original strain of COVID-19 in 2020. He could barely breathe, lost 20 pounds and missed 45 days of work.

Pyke caught another case of COVID-19 last month. He had then been vaccinated and had received a booster injection seven months earlier. This time he had a horrible headache and fatigue.

“It was just three bad days,” he said. After six days, he was able to return to work.

Looking at Jackson’s COVID hospitalizations, Pyke says it’s possible that people who were very vulnerable to the virus and got really sick during a previous infection could have severe symptoms when reinfected. It’s also possible, he said, that a healthy, vaccinated, recently infected person could have symptoms so mild that they don’t know they have COVID unless they are tested. for work or for other reasons.

Experts still don’t have a full picture of the kind of health risks associated with the repeated presence of COVID, but a new study aims to offer some insight.

Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Washington and chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, used the medical records of 5.7 million American veterans to assess the risk of reinfection. He found that each time you get COVID, your risk of getting really sick with something like clotting or lung damage seems to increase. The risks remained whether people were fully vaccinated or not.

“It’s also possible that the first infection weakened some organ systems and made people more vulnerable to health risks when they get a second or third infection,” Al-Aly told WebMD.

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The results of his research were published online June 17 as a pre-print study, which means they have not yet been peer-reviewed.

COVID fatigue has set in, masks are removed and crowds are gathering indoors again, just as BA.5 has arrived and is highly contagious.

Getting vaccinated or boosted is a good way to keep your immunity level high and avoid serious illnesses. You only need to wait a few weeks after an infection to get vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Dr. Cory Harow, an emergency physician at West Boca Medical Center, says staying up to date with vaccines “really makes a difference, especially in older people.”

“With more COVID in the community, more and more people are getting sick enough to require hospital admission,” he said.

Harow said if you have an event or trip coming up and want to avoid reinfection, even if you’ve had omicron, wear a mask in crowded places and make sure you’re boosted. “If you want to reduce your chances, that’s something to consider.”

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com.

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