Public Health

Can You Get COVID-19 Twice? Research On Coronavirus Reinfections

Mira Research Team
Mira Research Team9 Feb 2021

Quick Digest:

  • It's unlikely for someone to get reinfected with COVID-19.
  • While there was a report of a man in Hong Kong who was reinfected with coronavirus, it seems it's truly an unlikely situation and possibly a case of one.
  • Some possible explanations for reinfection include different strands of the virus, mild or non-infection during the first case, or simply a case of one.
  • Whether you've had coronavirus or not, you should always wear a mask, and stay 6 feet away from others.


Can you get COVID-19 twice? 

Experts say it's very unlikely that you will get infected with a case of COVID-19 twice in a short period of time. 

It is not currently known what this period of time is, however, some researchers have reported immunity to the virus is about 3 months.

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Coronavirus Reinfection: Research states you can get COVID-19 twice

Researchers in Hong Kong, recently reported that a 33-year-old man was infected a second time after he recovered from COVID-19. 

He was reinfected with COVID-19 and tested positive 142 days after his first infection. This individual had symptoms of COVID-19 during his first infection but has remained asymptomatic during the second infection. 

Some researchers speculate that cases like these are not true reinfections, but rather a scenario where the virus stays dormant in the body for several months and then ramps up again. This is a similar situation experienced by some patients with the Chicken Pox virus. 

Some other cases of reinfection were recorded by The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Richard L Tillett, and colleagues.

The first confirmed COVID-19 reinfection case in the United States was recorded by The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Richard L Tillett and colleagues:

It was a 25-year-old man in Nevada, he didn't have any known immune disorders and had a PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in April 2020. 

After recovering in quarantine, he tested negative twice after two consecutive time points. However, 48 days after the initial test, the patient tested positive again by RT-PCR. 

While it is unclear whether you can technically become reinfected with COVID-19, it is possible to get sick more than once from the virus. 

There have been several reported cases where individuals get sick from COVID-19, make a recovery, and then get sick again.  These individuals had symptoms the second time as well as the first. Mild symptoms were also recorded.

Why do people get COVID-19 twice?

Different strands of the virus. Viruses have the ability to mutate over time. For example, there is more than one strand of Flu (Influenza), that‚s why we have to get a new vaccine every year. 

Depending on how fast COVID-19 mutates, we could already have several new strands of coronaviruses responsible for the infection. 

Mild or non-infection the first time. Other documented cases show that COVID-19 cases of patients who tested positive multiple times, may not truly have been reinfected, but rather have some of the virus‚ genetic material lingering within the body, leading to repeated positive results. 

Case of one. While the case in Hong Kong is new knowledge, it is a case of one and cannot be generalized to the entire population. 

It is crucial to monitor this trend at the community or population level to see how reinfections work within this pandemic. At this time, there has been no confirmatory study suggesting that humans can be infected with Coronavirus twice.


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Is COVID-19 reinfection concerning?

Reinfection is not a new or scary concept. As a matter of fact, when reinfection occurs it isn't unique to SARS COV-2, it also happens in other diseases like the flu. 

In the U.S., 9.3M to 45M people get the Flu every year, though it is very rare that you get the Flu twice per season, it is common to get the Flu again in the next year. 

This is because there is more than one strand of Flu (Influenza), and that being infected with one doesn‚t provide immunity to others. 

It is important, however, to know how long the immunity lasts if you are infected. If the immunity lasts long enough to carry you through the next season and there is a vaccine, that is the ideal scenario. 

However, if the immunity is relatively short-lived and there is no vaccine, quarantine may last longer than what we have anticipated. 

In the meantime, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and public health officials are urging individuals to wear a mask, maintain a social distance from others, and practice good hygiene in order to slow the spread of infection.


How do you know if you have immunity to COVID-19? 

In order to know if you have immunity to COVID-19, you must have an antibody test done. 

When you're exposed to the virus, your body makes cells called memory white blood cells, so if you‚re exposed to the virus again, your body will know to make antibodies to fight against it. 

This antibody response should prevent you from getting sick again.

After a certain percent of the population is infected with COVID-19 or is effectively vaccinated, a region can achieve herd immunity to the virus. It is likely that there will be a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2020.
You can read more about how the antibody tests work here.


Where & how much does it cost to get tested for COVID-19 immunity?

You can get antibody testing at urgent care centers, some public or private hospitals, as well as through other healthcare providers and laboratories. 

The cost of your COVID-19 antibody test cost will likely vary depending on your testing site, location, and severity of symptoms. See our latest article How Much Does Coronavirus Testing Cost With or Without Insurance for a comprehensive guide on testing costs.


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Mira Research Team

The Mira Research team conducts original data and medical research on the most applicable topics of today and translates them into easy-to-understand articles to educate the public. Each of our articles is carefully reviewed and curated with interviews and opinions from medical experts, public health officials, and experienced administrators. The team has educational backgrounds from New York University, the University of Virginia, more.