Can you get COVID-19 twice in 90 days? Here’s why this is more likely now than ever

Even as we create more and more barriers against COVID-19, the virus is evolving to break them. Northeastern University experts explain why this happens, and what it means for your health. Credit: Matthew Modono/Northeastern University

When looking at the state of COVID-19 in the United States, Mansour Amiji, Distinguished Professor in Northeastern University’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, invites you to think in terms of the virus. what do you want? What should he do to find new hosts, or to re-infect the old?

The answer, he says, lies in spiny proteins, the part of the virus that binds to the receptor in the host cell. Under the pressure of natural immunity and other countermeasures for its own survival, the COVID-19 virus randomly mutates these elevated proteins, creating new variants that are more transmissible than their predecessors.

This development makes COVID-19 similar to other viruses we’ve seen. “This is really the natural course of the virus,” Ameji says.

It’s also the reason why you’re twice as likely to get COVID-19 now than you were just four months ago. New variants like BA-4 or BA-5, which were unheard of this year, are now circulating in the United States, and may not be prevented by the vaccines, boosters or antibodies you develop when you become infected. Another variable.

For example, if you get infected from a BA-2 variant, that doesn’t prevent you from getting infected with BA-4 or BA-5, says Neil Manyar, M.D., professor of practice in the Department of Health Sciences. Manyar says that each secondary variant of COVID-19 tends to be more transmissible than the last, and that protection from one does not guarantee protection from the other.

“This doesn’t mean we have to fear getting infected again, but it does mean we have to keep in mind that just because you’ve had COVID once, it doesn’t mean you won’t get it again in a month or two or two,” Manyar says. Three months, because there are these different sub-variables that are being traded.”

Despite this development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still does not recommend testing for COVID-19 within 90 days of recovering from infection.

The CDC website reads: “If you tested positive for COVID-19 with a viral test in the previous 90 days and subsequently recovered and remained asymptomatic, you do not need to be quarantined or tested after close contact.”

The reason for this is because the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test can still detect trace amounts of the virus even after a person is no longer infected or contagious, Manyar says. This can lead to a false positive result, even when an antigen (or “rapid”) test comes back negative.

“These viral particles can be detected for two or three months,” he says.

The thinking when writing the recommendation was also that the antibodies developed during infection can protect you from getting infected again within 90 days. But that’s not really the case, says Manyar.

“The idea that if you do get infected, and that you don’t necessarily have to worry about getting infected again for three months, it doesn’t necessarily apply anymore,” he says.

Returning to the “new normal” – workspaces and planes without masks, for example – may increase the likelihood of re-infection from various variables.

“We’re really starting to get back to a more normal pace of life than it was earlier this year,” Manyar says. “That’s a really good thing.”

This means we have resources at our disposal, such as vaccines and masks, to congregate in relative safety, he says. However, “the potential for exposure increases.”

Fortunately, as variants tend to become more contagious, they also tend to become less potent. Amiji says that COVID-19 subvariants typically cause respiratory problems above than below, making symptoms less severe. And for those who were vaccinated and received booster doses, symptoms tended to be less severe, or even non-existent. This reinforces the importance of vaccination and reinforcement. Amiji hopes that one day COVID-19 boosters will combine with flu vaccines, and it could be easy to get them at the same time each year.

But hospitalizations still occur, particularly among subgroups of the population at higher risk, so it’s still important to take precautionary measures even as we begin to transition into what Amiji calls an “endemic” phase of the epidemic.

To help stop the spread of disease, Ameji recommends getting tested if you have symptoms, and if the rapid test — which is less sensitive than the PCR test — is positive, you should isolate and wear a mask indoors. He adds that the amount of time a negative test takes after infection varies from person to person, but it is important to continue testing in order to make informed decisions. “It’s time when you start to test negative, as you’re likely to be less contagious,” he says.

Manyar compares metrics like this to wearing a seat belt every time you get into a car. “We all need to keep thinking about others around us, and thinking about what we need to do to protect ourselves.”

I have contracted COVID-19. Did you get a free pass for a while?

Provided by Northeastern University

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