Having coronavirus may lead to development of 'at least short-term immunity'
The number of global cases of the new coronavirus has reached 136,390, as the pandemic continues its spread around the world.
However, the latest figures also show 69,623 people, many of whom are in China where the virus originated, have recovered from the disease.
While the recovery rate is promising, it does not mean that those who have been infected with coronavirus are not still at risk, as experts believe having the virus once does not mean you cannot get sick from it again.
This is what you need to know about coronavirus immunity and contracting the virus more than once.
If you recover from the new coronavirus, do you have immunity?
To date, there have been more than 5,000 deaths from coronavirus globally. However, most people infected with Covid-19 virus have mild disease and recover, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) .
According to Li QinGyuan, director of pneumonia prevention and treatment at China Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing, those who have been infected with Covid-19 develop a protective antibody - but it isn’t clear how long the protection lasts.
"However, in certain individuals, the antibody cannot last that long," Li told USAToday. "For many patients who have been cured, there is a likelihood of relapse."
In children, it is currently believed that the virus causes the development of “at least short-term immunity”.
“No one knows for sure, but most children likely develop at least short-term immunity to the specific coronavirus that causes Covid-19,” Dr Peter Jung, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston told The Huffington Post. “But just as the flu can mutate, so could Covid-19, which would make an individual susceptible to reacquiring the infection.”
However, according to Dr Stephen Gluckman, an infectious diseases physician at Penn Medicine and the medical director of Penn Global Medicine, who spoke to the outlet, it seems likely that having the disease once results in immunity in most individuals - as is seen with other coronaviruses.
“Coronaviruses aren’t new, they’ve been around for a long, long time and many species - not just humans - get them,” he explained. “So we know a fair amount about coronaviruses in general. For the most part, the feeling is once you’ve had a specific coronavirus, you are immune. We don’t have enough data to say that with this coronavirus, but it is likely.”
This means that people who initially recovered are more likely to relapse rather than get reinfected with the virus.
According to one study, people with mild infections can test positive for the virus by throat swabs “for days and even weeks after their illness”.
But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to contract the disease again, especially in those who are immunocompromised.
“The immune response to Covid-19 is not yet understood,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. “Patients with MERS-CoV infection are unlikely to be reinfected shortly after they recover, but it is not yet known whether similar immune protection will be observed for patients with Covid-19.”
While further studies are needed to understand whether it is possible for an individual to be reinfected with new coronavirus, experts recommend those who have been infected follow the hygiene steps outlined by CDC, which include staying away from people who are sick, frequently washing hands, and covering coughs and sneezes.