Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — In the beginning, resistance to COVID had one redeeming quality: it gave you short-term immunity.
But new omicron subvariants are bucking this trend and BA. 5 has caused more people to contract COVID for a second or third time than previous strains.
BA. 5 has maximum immune evasion and is known to be more easily transmitted from person to person than other subvariants in the omicron family.
Here’s what you need to know about reinfections.
Reinfections are increasing
Emerging research shows that the percentage of people who are reinfected is on the rise.
Helix, which ranks COVID-19 tests to monitor for variants, found out of nearly 300,000 infections since March 2021, the proportion of re-infections during BA almost doubled to 6.4%. 5 waves in July from 3.6% during BA. 2 waves in May.
Most reinfections in July occurred in people who had contracted COVID-19 in 2021, Helix data showed.
Experts expect re-infection rates to continue to rise for two main reasons: BA. 5 is highly contagious, and most of the country — and Florida — has contracted COVID-19 at least once.
At the beginning of the pandemic, strains such as delta were not quickly replaced by new variants, and people with COVID-19 were protected from reinfection for months. But now new strains are sweeping the country one after another.
From April, B.A. 2, BA. 2.12.1 and now BA. 5, where it became the dominant strain. Thus, individuals who receive an early variation of omicron in the spring may be vulnerable to re-infection from another strain that circulates this summer or fall.
Experts differ on when you can get the infection again
As a nation, no one knows the true rate of re-infection because people are testing at home or not testing at all.
However, researchers believe that if you have the virus or your most recent dose of vaccine before 2022, you are more likely to contract COVID-19 again. Shishi Luo, deputy director of bioinformatics and infectious diseases at Helix, whose data shows that on average, people are now getting reinfected, was last infected nine months ago.
So does this mean that if you’ve had COVID-19 in the last few months, you won’t get it again this summer or fall?
This answer varies depending on who you ask.
The new study supports the notion that previous omicron infection offers some protection against BA.5., the newest strain. Analyzing the cases of COVID-19 registered in Qatar until May 7 of this year – B.A. 4 and BA. 5 entered the country for the first time – and on July 4, researchers found that pre-infection with Omicron was 79.7% effective in preventing BA. 4 and BA. Effective in preventing 5 reinfections and 76.1% of symptomatic reinfections.
“Basically, if you had a previous infection before the omicron, you’re seven times more likely to get re-infected,” said Dr. Michael Dainno is an emergency physician at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California. “Immunity from previous omicron infection will protect you somewhat from other omicron sub-lines, but nothing 100%.”
Daignault also cited a new Danish paper published this week that shows superior protection against BA. People who have been vaccinated three times and have previously had an omicron infection have a 5. Daignault said he first contracted COVID-19 in June and is not worried about re-infection — at least for now. “I am a young healthy child who has been vaccinated three times and recently contracted an infection. I feel well protected.’
Many experts, however, believe that the risk of re-infection varies from person to person. In some regions of the country, cases of re-infection are registered within a month.
Some older people may be in this situation, said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Florida International University.
“Your chance of re-infection depends on whether you’ve been vaccinated and boosted, what your previous infection was and how far back it was because immune defenses decline over time,” he said. “It can also be related to your age and health.”
Trepka said that even if you’re immune to the latest infection, circumstances play a role in whether you get COVID again. “If you have a quick encounter with someone outside, you have a lower viral load than if you live with someone who has the virus.”
Symptoms may vary each time
Doctors have proven that symptoms will be milder and shorter if you contract COVID-19 a second or third time, but it’s hard to say for sure that this will be the case for everyone. You may still experience fever, fatigue, angina, brain fog, and other symptoms.
Dr. O’Neill J. Pike, the chief medical officer at Jackson North Medical Center, said in 2020 he contracted the original strain of the COVID-19 virus. He could hardly breathe, lost 20 kilograms and missed work for 45 days.
Pike contracted another case of COVID-19 last month. Before that, he was vaccinated and received a booster shot seven months ago. This time he had a severe headache and was tired.
“It was just a bad three days,” he said. Six days later, he was able to return to work.
Looking at Jackson’s COVID infection, Pike says people who are highly vulnerable to the virus and have been seriously ill in the past may experience severe symptoms during reinfection. He said a healthy, vaccinated and recently infected person’s symptoms may be so mild that they may not know they have COVID until they are tested at work or for other reasons.
Reinfections are dangerous
Experts still don’t know exactly what the health risks of repeated exposure to COVID are, but a new study aims to offer some insights.
Ziyad Al-Ali, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Washington and VA St. Louis Health System used the health records of 5.7 million American veterans to measure their risk of re-infection. He found that the more you contract COVID, the more likely you are to get really sick with something like a clot or lung damage. Even when people are not fully vaccinated, risks remain.
“Also, a first infection can weaken certain organ systems, making people who get a second or third infection more at risk,” Al-Ali told WebMD.
The results of his research were published online on June 17 as a preliminary study, which means it has not yet been peer-reviewed.
How to prevent re-infection
As the COVID fatigue sets in, the masks come off and the crowd gathers indoors again, just like BA. 5 has arrived and is highly contagious.
A good way to keep your immunity high and avoid severe illness is to get vaccinated or boosted. You should wait a few weeks after you’ve been infected, the CDC says.
Dr. Cory Harov, an emergency room physician at West Boca Medical Center, says gunshot awareness “really makes a difference, especially in older people.”
“With the increase of COVID in the community, more and more people are getting sick enough to require hospitalization,” he said.
Harov says if you have an upcoming event or trip and want to avoid re-infection, wear a mask in public and step up even if you have Omicron. “If you want to lower your chances, this is something to look into.”