Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Is Omicron Re-infection Possible? Here’s what the experts want you to know

We are now entering the third year of pandemic life and facing a massive increase in cases in the US due to the rapid rise of the highly infectious Omicron variant. Public health officials have warned that everyone is likely to have been exposed to Omicron at some point, leading one to wonder whether you can be reinfected with COVID-19, thanks to it.

There are already reports of reinfection on social media, and Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador announced this week Twitter That he has been infected with COVID-19 again after contracting the virus early last year.

But how likely are you to get reinfected with COVID-19 during an omicron wave, and can you get omicron twice? Here’s what doctors know now.

What is a re-infection, exactly?

Re-infection means you got sick once, recovered from the disease, and then got the same disease again later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. The CDC says some COVID-19 reinfection is “expected,” but scientists are still trying to learn more about reinfection with the virus.

Can you get infected with Omicron after having a previous version of COVID-19?

“Yes, it’s certainly possible,” says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York.

The CDC says people who have been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and those who actually have the virus, should be given at least six months. There is a “low risk of subsequent infection”. Meaning, you should be protected for six months after having COVID-19. However, it is difficult to say beyond that.

There is a lot of variation from person to person and factors such as how severe a course of COVID-19 was the first time you had it, the different types that are circulating, and your individual immune response can all play a role, says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“We have several well-documented second infections with COVID,” Dr. Schaffner says. “Data about Omicron in particular is just now emerging, but there is no reason to think that Omicron is different from previous variants in this respect.”

Martin J. Blaser, MD, the Henry Rutgers Chair of the Human Microbiome and director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers University, agrees. “As we have seen during pandemics, one infection does not necessarily protect against further infection,” he says.

Omicron also carries a large number of mutations — including at least 34 on its spike protein, which the virus uses to latch onto your cells — and “it’s very contagious,” Dr. Schaffner says. “People shed so much virus with Omicron. Like other infections, sometimes if the exposure is too intense, immunity can be swayed,” he says.

In fact, recent research from Imperial College London found that the risk of reinfection with Omicron is 5.4 times higher than with Delta, the last major COVID-19 strain. Researchers specifically found that protection against reinfection by Omicron from a previous COVID-19 infection could be as low as 19%.

“One of the key features of Omicron is that it is highly resistant to immunity, whether it is vaccine-induced or due to a previous infection,” said Dr. Rousseau says.

Can you get Omicron twice?

“Yes, you can get Omicron twice,” says Stanley Weiss, MD, a professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and in the department of epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health. He cited a recent lecture from a virologist in South Africa, where Omicron first emerged, who said doctors in the country had seen many people who had Omicron re-infection.

“Omicron is highly contagious and does not appear to induce spectacular protective immunity,” Dr. Weiss says.

Dr. Rousseau says exactly how common Omicron reinfection is remains to be seen, noting that it is still a fairly new COVID-19 variant. “If you had a mild infection, didn’t get a very good immune response, and you get re-exposed to a large dose of the virus, that’s certainly possible,” he says.

Timing is also a big factor, Dr. Blaser says. “The longer the interval from a previous infection, the less protection you have from that infection,” he says. “Time does matter.”

How to Protect Yourself from Omicrons If You’re Relying on Natural Immunity

As the CDC points out, data is still being collected about how much protection you have from a past infection and how long it lasts. But the medical community generally recommends that you get vaccinated against COVID-19 after having the virus. “Once your symptoms resolve, it’s okay to go ahead and get vaccinated,” Dr. Rousseau says.

Something to keep in mind: One study found that people who already had COVID-19 who didn’t get vaccinated after recovery were more likely to get the virus again than those who were fully vaccinated. Your chances of getting it are more than twice as high.

Research has also shown that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 after you have the virus gives you a higher level of protection – including a nearly 50-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies.

“People who have been naturally infected should get vaccinated,” Dr. Schaffner says. “You’ll end up with very high levels of antibodies.”

This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit the online resources provided by CDC, WHO, And yours local public health department To stay updated with the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.

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