A 25-year-old Nevada man was hit twice with the coronavirus earlier this year, scientists in Nevada said. He is the first person to be confirmed with a possible case of re-infection in the United States and the fifth confirmed re-infection case in the world. However, there have been at least 22 documented cases of re-infection worldwide since the pandemic started.
The current case only goes to show the importance of observing coronavirus safety protocols, such as social distancing and the wearing of face masks, even if one has previously contracted the virus in the past. It also raises a fundamental question of how the human immune system actually reacts to the virus.
The rare case of the Nevada man was published in the medical journal The Lancet. Information from the case study showed that the two infections occurred about six weeks apart. The patient had initially tested positive for the virus in April. He presented with his first wave of symptoms like sore throat, cough, headache, nausea, and diarrhea. He recovered and tested negative for the virus in May.
However, by the end of May, he developed symptoms again such as fever, headache, dizziness, cough, nausea, and diarrhea. By early June, when he went to the hospital to get tested, he was down with the virus again, with the accompanying case of hypoxia (low blood oxygen) and shortness of breath. The study said the second infection was worse than the first symptomatically. However, the patient survived the second wave of the virus in his system.
This was the second case whereby the patient got very sick during the second bout of re-infection. The first case happened in Ecuador, where a patient presented with a very serious case of COVID-19 the second time he had re-infection.
Scientists are at a loss of why this happened. Theoretically, the body’s immune system is supposed to make antibodies after the first infection to fight off subsequent infections. This would help a person effectively wade off the attack of a disease when he is exposed to a similar virus again.
However, experts give reasons why this can happen. According to the Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunology at Yale University, when reinfection occurs, it may be due to the level of virus a person got exposed to during the second episode, which is usually relatively high. Or in any case, the first infection caused a rather hostile response from the immune system, which caused the second infection to be a lot worse. This is all speculation, Prof. Iwasaki said, as scientists are still yet to understand the mechanisms at play.
Yet, the question remains, how widely spread are re-infections in coronavirus cases? It is very difficult to establish this since people may contract the virus a second time without knowing it. The lack of sophisticated laboratory equipment in most hospitals to carry out the complex genome sequencing and analysis is making it challenging to determine the actual incidence of re-infection cases.
The study also puts to question just how effective a coronavirus vaccine would be. However, the good thing about a vaccine is that it can offer longer immunity than our natural immunity can.