COVID-19 reinfection and its consequences. Op-Ed by Ala Tocarciuc

"The same precautions used to prevent infection - masks, social distancing, vaccinations and others - work equally well to avoid reinfection...."



Re-infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means that a person gets infected, recovers and then gets reinfected again. After recovery from COVID-19, most people will have some protection against reinfection. However, after COVID-19, reinfection occurs more frequently. With the Omicron variant in circulation, which is highly contagious, it is becoming less and less unusual to have COVID-19 three - or even four - times.


The year 2023 is expected to be the year of repeat infections of COVID-19


The bad news is that all these new variants of Omicron are causing most reinfections now. But the good news is that the Omicron variants appear to be less virulent, meaning that they are less likely to cause more serious disease than the original Wuhan strain or the Delta variant.


It is supposed that those who have never had COVID-19 are more at risk of contracting a virus from the Omicron family this year.


Is reinfection good or bad for you?


It is already known that people who are recovered of COVID-19 retain antibodies that offer some protection against reinfection for some time. However, the consequences of repeat infections can lead to unexpected health problems in the future.


With each new infection, the body's resistance decreases more and more until, with enough attacks, it reaches the danger zone.


That's why it's important to avoid a second or third infection to try to stay healthy.


A preliminary study by Washington University in St Louis analyzed the medical records of more than 5.4 million Veterans Administration patients.


The study authors noted that adverse health effects were lowest in people with one infection, increased in people with two infections and were highest in people with three or more infections. Risks to lung, kidney and gastrointestinal health were also higher among those re-infected.


The main conclusion of the study was that reinfection with COVID-19 increases the risk of both acute outcomes and long-term COVID. This was evident in unvaccinated, vaccinated people, including those vaccinated with boosters.

Factors directly affecting reinfection


The person's state of health:

- The period that has passed since the previous infection because antibodies tend to decrease over time.

- Vaccination, revaccination, periods after vaccination.

- General personal immunity, low immunity is a risk factor.


Virus and its status:

- Circulating variants, differences between previous variants and current variants.


What are the public health consequences of COVID-19 reinfection?


Current research shows that being infected with COVID-19 multiple times - an increasingly common scenario as the pandemic continues and more transmissible variants emerge - can have aggravating consequences and pose additional public health risks.


According to studies, people who had more than one COVID-19 infection been three times more likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to die than those who had only one infection. People with multiple infections were also more vulnerable to other dangerous conditions; they were 3.5 times more likely to develop lung problems, 3 times more likely to have heart disease and 1.6 times more likely to have brain changes requiring care, than people who had COVID-19 only once.


Repeated infections may also increase the risk of long-term infection with COVID-19. It is not yet clear what exactly puts people at risk of developing symptoms that may persist long after the active infection has disappeared, and any encounter with SARS-CoV-2 could trigger any process that causes long-term COVID. Repeated infections only increase its chances.


How do we protect ourselves against reinfection?


The same precautions used to prevent infection - masks, distancing, vaccinations and more - work equally well to avoid reinfection.


To protect themselves and others who may be at greater risk, especially such as elderly relatives, people should:

- Be vaccinated with a bivalent vaccine (at least three months after the previous infection).

- wear a mask in high-risk environments.

- consider using rapid antigen tests before attending specific events or gatherings to reduce the likelihood of infecting others who may be particularly vulnerable.

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