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.

 

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Take A Virtual Vacation!

Traveling This Summer

There are a lot of “cannots” and “have nots” right now. We can’t get our hair cut, hang out at Starbucks, or get our nails done. Our vacations have been canceled and replaced by speedy trips to the grocery store. All these factors play into our overall stress, and without even knowing it, we are like ticking time-bombs ready to explode. I realized I needed a way to de-stress, and I found out that virtual vacations exist!

I tried it out and visited the British Museum in London. I was supposed to go to England for spring break, and since the trip was canceled, I thought this would be a small taste of that experience. While I couldn’t tour the actual building, I was able to see many of the museum’s artifacts. Along with each piece was information on it, so it felt like I was on a high-quality tour.

After my museum visit, I zipped on over to Machu Picchu to see the ancient structures for myself. On this “vacation,” I walked through the paths with other tourists and took in the view the stunning mountains. This trip was much more realistic, and it almost felt like I was there in person.

To finish off my around-the-world tour, I took in the views of the Taj Mahal from one of its many tours. I can only imagine what it is like in person because it was stunning from the view on my laptop.

Just spending the 15 minutes touring these places calmed me down. It was fun visiting famous places in the world for free and from the comfort of my couch. Definitely check it out for an easy and effective de-stressing experience. And who knows, maybe it will give you inspiration for your next vacation once we can travel again!

Ways to Stay Connected (And Check on Seniors) While Social Distancing

(News USA) – You know we’re all going a tad stir-crazy when a parody of the title song from Broadway’s “Oklahoma!” (“Oh, Corona!”) gets almost 1.7 million views on YouTube. But it’s far worse for seniors: Not only can’t even their kids and grandkids visit them, but there’s the extra stress that comes with the nagging suspicion that they’ll be advised to remain on lockdown long after younger people begin trickling back to work. Whenever that is. In fact, the AARP Foundation has even come up with this dire comparison: Prolonged social isolation, for those aged 50 and older, “is the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Fortuitously, some of the niftiest technology offers solutions both to keep us connected and protect against some of the miscreants taking advantage of the situation. * Health Checks.

If you are worried that all the anxiety is harming your loved ones’ overall well-being, the machine-learning algorithms that analyze activity data as part of Alarm.com’s Wellness solution can provide you with the very details you’ve suddenly found yourself obsessing about. Did they open their medicine cabinet when they should to take their prescription? Has their sleeping, eating, and (yes) bathroom patterns changed? Are they up and about during the day? All that and more is done by connecting their home to yours via smart-home technology, with real-time smartphone alerts to let you know if something’s amiss. “You don’t even know it’s there, but it’s here to protect you and let someone know if something does go wrong,” said Margarete Pullen of Dallas, Texas, whose son had the system installed by an authorized service provider for her and her husband along with a Wellcam video camera with two-way voice capability.

* Movie meet-ups. Most of us are just trying to find novel ways to cope with a situation that Nicholas Christakis, a social scientist and physician at Yale University, told Science magazine “calls on us to suppress our profoundly human and evolutionary hard-wired impulses for connection. “Google’s new Netflix Party extension lets friends and family watch – and video chat their way through – a movie together on their computers. You’ll need a NetFlix subscription, but then you’re free to debate whether all the hype about Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” say, was justified. Plus, unlike in real theatres, not many people (if any) are physically there to complain if you’re making too much noise eating popcorn. * Apps! Apps! Apps! No NetFlix subscription? With apps like FaceTime, Skype, Houseparty and Zoom comes more proof that social distancing needn’t mean social disconnecting. Mass virtual dinner parties. Mass virtual “happy hours.” Mass virtual gym classes. They’ve all become quite the rage, with one Vermont couple in their eighties even touchingly using Apple’s FaceTime to see and talk to each other after the husband had to be put in a nursing home that bars visitors during the pandemic. And, oh, you say you want to be a hero in your neighborhood? Use an app like Instagram to share a video of someone that Alarm.com’s doorbell cameras caught swiping one of the many, many packages you’ve been having delivered.