Katherine J. Wu wrote about the reality of coronavirus reinfection in the near future and that it shouldn’t scare the majority of us.
Newly saddled with the baggage of COVID-19, reinfection has taken on a more terrifying aspect, raising the specter of never-ending cycles of disease. It has sat at the center of debates over testing, immunity, and vaccines; its meaning muddled by ominous headlines, it has become wildly misunderstood. When I ask immunologists about reinfection in the context of the coronavirus, many sigh.
But infection is a two-player game, and a change in either contender can affect the dynamics of a second confrontation. On occasion, the body’s immune strongholds might weaken and crack. Or a microbe might alter its surface until it’s unrecognizable to the host that once fought it off—even if the original defenses raised against the bug are still standing tall. These latter cases might be described less strictly as reinfection than as, well, another infection.
She spoke to various immunologists and virologists to find out more about what reinfection actually means:
A repeat infection won’t necessarily come with the same symptoms, or the same level of contagiousness. In the most classical portrait of reinfection, the microbe is effectively identical; your body, with its memory of the bug, is not. That probably means you’re not “completely susceptible again,” says Angela Rasmussen, a virologist affiliated with Georgetown University.
It’s a very informative piece and should quell some fears of a never-ending pandemic. As always, remember to wear adequate masks to stem transmission, keep social distancing, wash and sanitise your hands and stay home as much as you’re able to.