Covid reinfections: Can I get infected again as UK cases rise?

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Written by Adonis Hakk

July 20, 2022

Covid reinfections: COVID-19 infections continue to rise in the UK with 3.8 million people testing positive for the virus during August. It is a 7 per cent weekly increase as per the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Scientists have warned the public that a new wave of infections has begun and it is largely due to the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

A large portion of these infections has been attributed to people who have been previously infected. It has been noted that some of these people have only had the virus once before, while others may have had it multiple times. Considering the concerns surrounding reinfections, this begs the question, how likely it is to get reinfected again with the surge of cases in the UK?

Here is what you need to know:

How common are COVID reinfections?

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When the Omicron variant hit the UK last December, reinfections have become increasingly common which prompted a 15-fold increase according to ONS. Scientists believe that the Omicron’s extensive mutation is the primary reason why the virus was able to bypass established immunity.

Before, reinfections happened due to a decline in protective antibodies triggered by vaccinations and infections over time. However, the virus has evolved to drive past immune defences, making reinfections more likely. It is also the reason why many individuals who are fully vaccinated or, who have had the virus in the past had caught it again.

According to Danny Altmann, a professor of Immunology at Imperial College London, Omicron is poorly immunogenic which means if an individual caught the virus, it offers little protection against catching it again. Additionally, he said that “there is now further evidence of the very marginal ability of prior Omicron to prime any immune memory for BA.4 and BA.5.”

This means that even if an individual had COVID during December, it is now possible for them to catch it again. This is proven by the data from the ZOE Covid app which revealed that many people who were infected with coronavirus at the end of the year, caught it again, including some who had been infected with BA.4/5 and BA.1/2. However, Professor Tim Spector who runs the ZOE Covid app added that it is unlikely to be reinfected with COVID within three months.

What if I have been vaccinated?

The BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron strains have mutations that are not present in the previous variants. It means that even if you have been fully vaccinated or even received a booster shot, you are still vulnerable to the new sub-variants.

As reported by researchers in China in the journal Nature, the sub-variants can “notably evade the neutralising antibodies elicited by the SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination”. They also warned that the booster jabs based on the BA.1 virus developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, might not achieve sufficient protection against the new Omicron variants.

Experts advise that even if reinfections do happen and immune evasion occurs, getting vaccinated can still help prevent people from developing severe diseases. It is also essential to stay up-to-date with vaccines.

Who is more susceptible to reinfections?

An unpublished data from Denmark looked at reinfections with the BA.2 Omicron sub-variant within 60 days of catching BA.1. According to the data, reinfections were most common among the young, unvaccinated individuals, and those with mild diseases.

If I get reinfected, how bad will my symptoms be?

Generally, second or third-time infection symptoms tend to be less severe or milder due to residual immunity the body develops – particularly if they have been vaccinated as it would raise their levels of immune protection. But there are exceptions to this as some people are getting long COVID associated with the new Omicron variants.

Also, it is important to take note that the new sub-variants might have evolved to refavour infection of lung cells rather than the respiratory tract tissue. In this case, it is more similar to the earlier and severe Alpha and Delta variants.

Behavioural changes

Behavioural changes after the easing of coronavirus restrictions are believed to play a role in the rise of reinfections. Previous UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted many COVID restrictions in England and scrapped safety measures like the requirement to self-isolate after testing positive, contract tracing, and the provision of free antigen tests. While this only applied to England, the country is home to 56 million of the UK’s 67 million people.

Now that many of the covid restrictions have eased or been removed completely, many people are no longer wearing face masks or observing social distancing. It has even been noted that people aren’t self-isolating when they have been infected. Without safety measures in place, the risk of acquiring the virus has heightened, especially when new COVID variants continue to emerge.

Can acquiring COVID multiple times cause long-term effects?

As of today, there is no sufficient data on whether long-term damage from repeated infections is occuring. But, there is data showing that people can acquire ‘long COVID’ even if they seem fine during their past infection. According to a study published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five adults is experiencing continuing health issues after being previously infected. This includes persistent symptoms or organ dysfunction.

How am I supposed to cope with emerging and changing information about reinfection risks?

While it can be frustrating to have reinfection cases and deal with the surge in infections, the world is yet to attain the information needed to end the virus once and for all. As we continue to live with the coronavirus, being alert to the ways each emerging variant is changing is important. It is especially important to be aware of emerging variants and infection rates in this age of reinfections.

Moreover, as Covid restrictions are scrapped in some countries for good, it does not mean people should overlook the importance of precautions such as wearing masks, social distancing, vaccinations, and even getting a Covid-19 test if they feel any symptoms related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Also, Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital said that people should keep in mind that reinfections are not unusual for coronaviruses as it is a feature of coronavirus biology.

For more information regarding COVID-19 testing, visas, and legalisation, you can visit Harley Medic Global’s website at www.harleymedic.co.uk

Read More: COVID-19 Reinfections Explained

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