At first, sustained coronavirus had one compensatory advantage: It gave you some short-term immunity from getting infected again.
But the new omicron sub-variables break that trend. BA.5, which now makes up 66% of COVID cases in Florida, has caused more people to contract COVID for the second or third time than previous strains.
BA.5 is known to have a structure that is maximized for immune evasion and for person-to-person transmission more easily than other sub-variants in the omicron family.
Here’s what you need to know about reinfection.
Emerging research shows that the percentage of re-infections is on the rise.
Helix, which is sequencing COVID-19 tests for surveillance variants, has detected out of nearly 300,000 infections since March 2021, the share that was re-infection nearly doubled to 6.4% during the BA.5 wave in July from 3.6% during the BA.2 wave In May.
Helix data shows that most re-infections in July occurred in people who contracted COVID in 2021.
Experts predict the infection rate will continue to rise for two main reasons: BA.5 is highly contagious, and the majority of the country — and Florida — have already contracted COVID-19 at least once.
Early in the pandemic, strains like Delta were not replaced as quickly by new variants and people with COVID had some protection from getting reinfected for several months. But now, new strains are sweeping the country one by one.
Only since April have BA.2, BA.2.12.1 and now BA.5 turned out to be the dominant strain. So Florida residents who got a previous type of omicron in the spring may be susceptible to re-infection from a different strain that’s spreading this summer or fall.
As a nation, no one knows the true scale of the infection because people either test at home or don’t test at all.
However, researchers feel confident that the chances of contracting the COVID virus are higher again if you have the virus or the latest vaccine dose before 2022. Shishi Lu, associate director of bioinformatics and infectious diseases at Helix, said her data shows on average, people infected with the virus . She was now infected again about nine months ago.
So does that mean that if you’ve had COVID-19 in the past few months, you likely won’t catch it again this summer or fall?
This answer varies depending on who you ask.
A new study supports the notion that a previous infection with omicron could provide some protection from BA.5, the newer strain. When analyzing cases of COVID-19 recorded in Qatar between May 7 of this year – when BA.4 and BA.5 first entered the country – and July 4, researchers found that previous omicron infection was 79.7% effective in preventing BA. 4 and BA. 5 Re-infection and 76.1% effective in preventing recurrence of symptoms.
“Basically you have a seven times greater chance of getting infected again if your previous injury was pre-omicron,” said Dr. Michael Denniault, MD, an emergency physician at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California. “Immunity from a previous omicron infection actually protects you from other omicron substrains to some extent, but nothing 100%.”
Daignault also noted a new Danish paper printed this week showing high protection against BA.5 in people who have been vaccinated three times and have previous omicron infections. Daignault said he first contracted COVID-19 in June and doesn’t worry about getting infected again — at least for now. “I am a healthy young man who has been vaccinated three times and was recently infected. I feel well protected.”
However, many experts believe that the risk of reinfection varies from person to person. In some parts of the country, cases of re-infection are reported as early as one month.
Some seniors in Florida may find themselves in this situation, said Dr. Mary Jo Tribeca, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Florida International University.
“Your chances of getting re-infected can depend on whether you’ve been vaccinated and are up-to-date, what your previous infection was and how far away it is, since immune defenses tend to wear down over time,” she said. “It can also depend on your age and underlying health conditions.”
Even with immunity to a recent infection, Tribeca said, circumstances play a role in whether you will catch COVID again. “If you have a casual encounter with someone outdoors, you will be exposed to a smaller viral load than if you live with an infected person with a higher viral load.”
Doctors see evidence that symptoms tend to be milder and shorter if you catch COVID-19 a second or third time, but it’s hard to say firmly that this will be the case for everyone. You may continue to have a fever, fatigue, sore throat, brain fog, and other symptoms.
Dr. O’Neill J. Pike, chief medical officer at Jackson North Medical Center, said he contracted the original strain of COVID-19 in 2020. He can barely breathe, has lost 20 pounds and has lost 45 days of work.
Pyke discovered another case of COVID-19 last month. So far he has been vaccinated and had a booster shot seven months ago. This time he was suffering from severe headaches and fatigue.
“It was just three bad days,” he said. Six days later, he was able to return to work.
When considering Jackson COVID hospital admissions, Pyke says it’s possible for people who were really exposed to the virus and sick during a previous infection to have severe symptoms while reinfecting. It’s also possible for a healthy, vaccinated, recently infected person to have such mild symptoms that they don’t know they have COVID unless they are tested for work or other reasons, he said.
Experts still don’t have the full picture of what kind of health risks come from being infected with COVID over and over again, but a new study aims to provide some insights.
Ziad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Washington and head of research and development at the VA St. Louis Healthcare System, used the health records of 5.7 million American veterans to measure the risk of reinfection. Find out that every time you catch COVID, your chance of developing a disease such as thrombosis or lung damage seems to increase. The risks remained whether or not people were fully vaccinated.
“It’s also possible that the first infection weakened some organ systems and made people more vulnerable to health risks when they had a second or third infection,” Al-Aly told WebMD.
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The results of his research were published online on June 17 as a preprint study, which means they have not been peer-reviewed.
COVID fatigue set in, masks were off and crowds gathered inside again, just as highly contagious BA.5 came in.
Vaccination or a booster is a good way to keep your immunity levels high and stave off severe diseases. The CDC says, just wait a few weeks after you get infected.
Keeping up with the shots “really makes a difference, especially in older people,” says Dr. Corey Harrow, MD, an emergency physician at West Poca Medical Center.
“With more COVID in the community, more and more people are getting sick enough to be hospitalized,” he said.
If you have an upcoming event or are traveling and want to avoid getting reinfected, even if you have an omicron, Harow said, wear a mask in crowded places and be sure to get a boost. “If you want to reduce your chances, that is something to consider.”
Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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