The COVID-19 virus, also referred to as the coronavirus, burst onto the U.S. public health scene in the spring of 2020.
Since then, it has been quite a rollercoaster in the medical community as efforts have been made to understand the virus better.
However, one major concern from the general public has been the likelihood of reinfection — can you get COVID more than once?
A Closer Look at COVID
Defined by the World Health Organization, COVID is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Most people with a case of COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate respiratory issues like those similar to common colds and other coronaviruses, though some do experience more severe symptoms and severe illness, and such cases may require immediate medical attention.
Certain demographics are at greater risk for severe SARS-COV-2 infection, such as the elderly, residents of long-term care facilities, or those with underlying severe medical issues (e.g., cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, etc.).
Virus Transmission and Symptoms
COVID is considered an infectious (contagious) disease; it is spread from person to person. In short, COVID spreads when infected persons breathe out small particles (droplets) that contain the virus.
These droplets (i.e., spread through coughing or sneezing) are breathed in by other people and can be transmitted through the nose, mouth, or eyes, which is why it is essential to wear masks for prevention.
Symptoms of COVID
Those with COVID have reported a wide range of symptoms, each of which varies in severity from mild to severe. Typically, COVID symptoms appear 2-14 days after exposure. Common symptoms of the coronavirus include, but are not limited to:
- Sore throat
- Dry throat
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Head and neck tension
- Body aches
- Nausea or vomiting
- New loss of smell or taste
COVID and Immunity
Like most infectious diseases and viruses, the immune system plays a vital role in how well the body responds to infections. But what about immunity after infection?
This type of immunity is acquired from exposure to disease through actual infection. The body produces its own antibody responses.
This immunity is acquired through vaccination, in which a weakened or killed form of the original virus is introduced.
The overall length of immunity varies from person to person.
For example, the National Institutes of Health states that lasting natural immunity is roughly eight months for 95 percent of people post-COVID recovery, meaning you have some protection against COVID-19 reinfection during this period.
COVID and Reinfection
One of the major concerns for those who’ve had the virus is the likelihood of reinfection. Reinfection simply means a person who has been infected (or gotten sick) once, recovered, and became infected again.
While some natural immunity is offered post-infection, scientists say the length of immunity varies from person to person and is not definitive among the medical community, meaning a second infection is possible.
Furthermore, per the CDC, it is unknown how long COVID vaccine protection lasts, as recent studies have shown protection against the virus may decrease over time.
This is why some demographic groups are encouraged to get booster shots after their first COVID-19 vaccination.
Can I Get COVID More Than Once?
So, can a person get COVID more than once? Yes, cases of reinfection have been reported, though they remain rare per the CDC.
In a review of over 9,000 U.S. patients, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine found that less than 1 percent of U.S. patients with severe COVID infection contracted the illness again.
Another 2021 study conducted by Epic Health Research Network found that about 0.4 percent of patients who previously tested positive for COVID tested positive again after 90 days.
Per CDC guidance, further studies are needed to understand the likelihood of breakthrough infections and true reinfection, how often it occurs, who might be at higher risk, and how severe reinfections could be.
Potential Causes for Reinfection
So, by the numbers, reinfections are still considered rare. But experts do caution that tracking reinfection is a difficult task. This is partly due to decentralized testing and a lack of communication between labs.
Also, cases of reinfection might be underreported since symptoms are often milder than the first infection the second time around, and some individuals might not even realize they’re infected.
Another potential cause for reinfections could be new variants of COVID. These could make both natural and vaccine-induced immunity against COVID-19 infections less effective.
Supporting Your Immune System
The likelihood of initial infection and reinfection varies greatly from person to person; some demographic groups are more susceptible than others. But masking in public spaces, social distancing, and supporting your immune system naturally is a good practice for all, even those who have had both vaccine doses. Here are a few tips:
Poor sleep can actually suppress your body’s immune system response, which is vital for warding off and fighting infection. Getting restful sleep is key to good health.
Stress can also hamper your immune system. In fact, chronic stress can lead to the overproduction of cortisol, disrupting the body’s natural immune response. Find a way to kick anxiety to the curb.
The COVID-19 virus has impacted millions in the United States since it first came onto the scene in early 2020. The severity of the virus varies from person to person.
Although both natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity certainly protect from getting the virus for a second time, reinfection is possible in rare cases.
Taking the proper precautions and supporting your immune system is always a great line of defense.