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COVID-19 Immunity After Infection? Like the Virus, Uncertainties Remain

July 06, 2020

With the focus on tragic results of many coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, it’s easy to overlook that the majority of people do recover from the disease.

What’s unclear, however, is if those people who recover are then immune to reinfection.

“The literature is not clear on immunity, or how long immunity lasts after they recover,” according to Dr. Kenneth Robinson, chief of Emergency Medicine at Hartford Hospital, part of Hartford HealthCare. “We’re very interested in that because we’ve had a number of providers who have recovered and been cleared to return to work.”

With other viruses, the human immune system fights off infection by creating antibodies and memory cells that recognize the virus if the person is exposed again. This generally confers immunity once the person recovers.

The immunity question is still to be determined with COVID-19, and many experts actually believe it is possible that people who have been infected with the virus once can get sick again and infect others.

But in a Chinese study published in the journal Science, monkeys infected with coronavirus were protected from reinfection for up to 28 days as their immune systems had a stronger response and produced more neutralizing antibodies that protected them. Scientists involved in the study surmised that this protection might be tied a short-term immunity that has kept humans from becoming reinfected in the months since the pandemic began in 2019.

Separate researchers, in a study published in Nature Medicine in June, also suggested that people who have severe bouts of COVID-19 have longer-lasting antibodies than those who have mild forms of the virus or are asymptomatic. In the asymptomatic patients studied, 40 percent lost their protective antibodies within a few weeks or months, compared with 12.9 percent of symptomatic patients.

The trouble tracking the virus and the human body’s immune system response also leads experts to believe that multiple vaccinations will be needed, instead of a one-time inoculation.

Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.

Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor.

Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily.

Questions? Call our 24-hour hotline (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600). 

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