Covid-19 Reinfection Documented in Nevada Adds to Questions on Virus Immunity

Wall Street Journal – October 12, 2020

Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) discusses the recent case of a Nevada man who became the first published case of COVID-19 reinfection in the United States.

Scientists are working at breakneck speed to develop an effective vaccine for the coronavirus. Their ultimate goal: to immunize enough of the world’s population to reach herd immunity. WSJ explains. Illustration: Jacob Reynolds

A Nevada man became the first published case of Covid-19 reinfection in the U.S., adding to a number of examples world-wide signaling that patients who have recovered from the viral disease might still be at risk of getting it again.

In a paper in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, a group of authors including University of Nevada researchers recount the case of a 25-year-old who suffered two bouts of Covid-19 infection, one confirmed through testing in mid-April and the second in early June. Symptoms of the second case started in late May, a month after the patient reported his initial symptoms as having resolved.

The two strains of virus were genetically distinct, signaling that it is unlikely that the man simply remained unknowingly infected with the virus in one, longer bout, the authors wrote. The paper notes that the patient’s second case of Covid-19 was more severe than his first, requiring supplemental oxygen and admission to a hospital after he suffered from shortness of breath.

The Nevada case comes after similar reinfection case reports from locations including Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ecuador. The growing number of examples in medical literature bolsters evidence that immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, might in at least some cases only last for a limited period, similar to coronaviruses that cause the common cold, researchers said.

“We know that it certainly is in fact possible to be reinfected with this virus, and for the second infection to be as severe, or more severe, than the first one,” said Mark Pandori, an author of the paper who is director of Nevada’s state public health lab and an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. It still isn’t clear how common such reinfections are, he said.