Study Confirms It’s Possible to Catch COVID Twice

August 24, 2020 — Researchers in Hong Kong say they’ve confirmed that a person can be infected with COVID-19 twice.There have been sporadic accounts on social media sites of people who say they’ve gotten COVID twice. But scientists have been skeptical about that possibility, saying there’s no evidence it happens.The new proof comes from a 33-year-old man in Hong Kong who first caught COVID-19 in March. He was tested for the coronavirus after he developed a cough, sore throat, fever, and a headache for 3 days. He stayed in the hospital until he twice tested negative for the virus in mid-April.

On Aug. 15, the man returned to Hong Kong from a recent trip to Spain and the U.K., areas that have recently seen a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. At the airport, he was screened for COVID-19 using a test that checks saliva for the virus. He tested positive, but this time, had no symptoms. He was taken to the hospital for monitoring. His viral load — the amount of virus he had in his body — went down over time, suggesting that his immune system was taking care of the intrusion on its own.

The special thing about his case is that each time he was hospitalized, doctors sequenced the genome of the virus that infected him. It was slightly different from one infection to the next, suggesting that the virus had mutated — or changed — in the 4 months between his infections. It also proves that it’s possible for this coronavirus to infect the same person twice.

Experts with the World Health Organization responded to the case at a news briefing Monday.

“What we are learning about infection is that people do develop an immune response. What is not completely clear yet is how strong that immune response is and for how long that immune response lasts,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

A study on the man’s case is being prepared for publication in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Experts say the finding shouldn’t cause alarm, but it does have important implications for the development of herd immunity and efforts to come up with vaccines and treatments.

“This appears to be pretty clear-cut evidence of reinfection because of sequencing and isolation of two different viruses,” says Gregory Poland, MD, an expert on vaccine development and immunology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. “The big unknown is how often is this happening,” he says. More studies are needed to learn whether this was a rare case or something that is happening often.

Past Experience Guides Present

Until we know more, Poland says the possibility of getting COVID-19 twice shouldn’t make anyone worry.

This also happens with other kinds of coronaviruses — the ones that cause common colds. Those coronaviruses change slightly each year as they circle the globe, which allows them to keep spreading and causing their more run-of-the-mill kind of misery.

It also happens with seasonal flu. It is the reason people have to get vaccinated against the flu year after year, and why the flu vaccine has to change slightly each year in an effort to keep up with the ever-evolving influenza virus.

“We’ve been making flu vaccines for 80 years, and there are clinical trials happening as we speak to find new and better influenza vaccines,” Poland says.

There has been other evidence the virus that causes COVID-19 can change this way, too. Researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Center, at Rockefeller University in New York, recently used a key piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus — the genetic instructions for its spike protein — to repeatedly infect human cells. Scientists watched as each new generation of the virus went on to infect a new batch of cells. Over time, as it copied itself, some of the copies changed their genes to allow them to survive after scientists attacked them with neutralizing antibodies. Those antibodies are one of the main weapons used by the immune system to recognize and disable a virus.

Though that study is still a preprint, which means it hasn’t yet been reviewed by outside experts, the authors wrote that their findings suggest the virus can change in ways that help it evade our immune system. If true, they wrote in mid-July, it means reinfection is possible, especially in people who have a weak immune response to the virus the first time they encounter it.

Good News

That seems to be true in the case of the man from Hong Kong. When doctors tested his blood to look for antibodies to the virus, they didn’t find any. That could mean that he either had a weak immune response to the virus the first time around, or that the antibodies he made during his first infection diminished over time. But during his second infection, he quickly developed more antibodies, suggesting that the second infection acted a little bit like a booster to fire up his immune system. That’s probably the reason he didn’t have any symptoms the second time, too.

That’s good news, Poland says. It means our bodies can get better at fighting off the COVID-19 virus and that catching it once means the second time might not be so bad.But the fact that the virus can change quickly this way does have some impact on the effort to come up with a vaccine that works well.“I think a potential implication of this is that we will have to give booster doses. The question is how frequently,” Poland says. That will depend on how fast the virus is changing, and how often reinfection is happening in the real world.

“I’m a little surprised at 4½ months,” Poland says, referencing the time between the Hong Kong man’s infections. “I’m not surprised by, you know, I got infected last winter and I got infected again this winter,” he says.

It also suggests that immune-based therapies such as convalescent plasma and monoclonal antibodies may be of limited help over time, since the virus might be changing in ways that help it outsmart those treatments.

Convalescent plasma is essentially a concentrated dose of antibodies from people who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection. As the virus changes, the antibodies in that plasma may not work as well for future infections.

Drug companies have learned to harness the power of monoclonal antibodies as powerful treatments against cancer and other diseases. Monoclonal antibodies, which are mass-produced in a lab, mimic the body’s natural defenses against a pathogen. Just like the virus can become resistant to natural immunity, it can change in ways that help it outsmart lab-created treatments. Some drug companies that are developing monoclonal antibodies to fight COVID-19 have already prepared for that possibility by making antibody cocktails that are designed to disable the virus by locking onto it in different places, which may help prevent it from developing resistance to those therapies.

“We have a lot to learn,” Poland says. “Now that the proof of principle has been established, and I would say it has with this man, and with our knowledge of seasonal coronaviruses, we need to look more aggressively to define how often this occurs.”

Sources

Clinical Infectious Diseases, Aug. 24, 2020.

Gregory Poland, MD, consultant, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases; consultant, Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.

Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, infectious disease epidemiologist, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

 

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NCOA offers a treasure trove of information for older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is generating fear, confusion, and economic uncertainty for many older Americans, especially those living on a fixed income. Fortunately, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a trusted nonprofit that has been helping older adults age with dignity and economic security for the last 70 years, is providing valuable information about corona-virus on its website, http://www.ncoa.org.

NCOA experts are regularly curating and updating resources that are of vital importance to older adults and their caregivers. You will find blogs, links, and videos that address a wide range of issues, including: Food If you or someone you care for needs meals delivered, NCOA offers links to Meals on Wheels and Feeding America with options to search in your zip code for local services.

Feeding America and other food banks are adapting to the situation by setting up social distancing guidelines and smaller community drop-off points. For those who qualify, there is a link to apply for SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, which helps individuals pay for nutritious food. Finances Many older Americans, especially those living on a fixed income, are concerned that COVID-19 will impact their financial situation now and in the future. In fact, many federal, state, and local benefits programs are available to older adults for help with financial challenges, including utility payments, medication costs, rent, and other expenses. NCOA’s companion website, http://www.benefitscheckup.org, offers information about eligibility and how to apply for billions of dollars in benefits. In addition, although older Americans are advised to avoid non-essential travel, older adults can find options for critical transportation for essential medical visits or to pick up food and medication.

NCOA provides a link to Eldercare Locator to help find local transportation services, and also offers information about navigating telemedicine visits, which are becoming easier and more commonplace. Those concerned about Medicare benefits in the COVID-19 health care environment can use NCOA’s links to state and government sites for the latest information. Feelings The stress and isolation of the corona virus pandemic is taking a toll on everyone’s emotions. While NCOA urges older adults to follow physical isolation guidelines to remain physically healthy, it also offers tips for older adults, their caregivers, and families to use technology to stay in touch with loved ones and friends, and remain emotionally healthy as well.

Information provided by the NCOA.

Corona-Virus through a Mother’s Eye’s

As a mother I have never been more surprised to find myself especially in such modern times dealing with a virus “The Corona-Virus” and all the pandemonium that came with it.

Starting with having to explain to my mother-n-law that she is not allowed to step-outside of her house. No walking to her favorite retailers or restaurants, no walking to Rite Aide to pick up her medications, and definitely no taking the local Bus to get groceries. If that wasn’t already allot for her to process I then proceeded to explain to her that she is not even aloud to have any contact from friends, neighbor’s but most importantly no visits from her loved ones, that was such a difficult conversation I can only imagine how sad and alone she must have felt especially by the sound of her voice.

I am not even sure what logistical nightmare’s that are about to complicate our lives, coordinating to ensure she has her medication’s and Groceries. I literally started to organize my thought’s with concerns to my mother-n-law when I received news that my son’s school board decided it would be best to close his school from March 16, 2020 until April 6,2020, unless when the board meets on March 25th to extend his school’s closure.

This is insane the effects this virus has brought with it, our local grocery store is closing early due to limited inventory, even our local Costco is being cleaned out, I saw several grown adults literally fighting over Toilet-Paper, Toilet-Paper. I am not impressed with how times like these when we should be working together to support one another we are allowing fear to dictate our lives.

We are teaching our youth in the midst of all this how to handle future problems may they be big or small, this is not the message I personally want my son to learn. I am instead going to use this Health crisis as a learning experience, and come up with tools to help in the event of future situations that may arise. We owe it to our children to equip them instead of allowing them to watch grown adults fighting over Toilet-Paper.