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Can you catch coronavirus twice?

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COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus which is spread in droplets and particles from the nose and mouth of an infected person. Because it’s a new disease we’re still learning how it works, and how it affects the body. However, we do know is that it’s possible to catch COVID-19 twice.

What counts as COVID-19 reinfection?

According to the CDC, reinfection describes a situation where a person was infected with the virus, recovered, and then became infected again later on. Cases of reinfection with COVID-19 are expected, because the same thing can happen with similar viruses.

Reinfection is different to being ill for a long time – if you have ongoing symptoms, this is known as long COVID. However, it could be that some cases of reinfection are actually reactivation. This is where the virus has laid dormant in your system but becomes active again, causing another bout of symptoms.

Does catching the virus give me immunity?

Yes, to a certain extent. When your body is infected with any virus, your immune system responds by creating antibodies to fight the infection. These antibodies stay in your system, and can fight off the infection if it enters your body a second time.

For some people this isn’t possible, because they have a disease or are receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system.

How long does COVID-19 immunity last?

It’s still not clear how long immunity lasts after you’ve had the virus.  

According to one study reported in the BMJ, immunity might last for around six months. According to a different study reported by Public Health England, immunity might last for around five months. The CDC, meanwhile, has stated that catching the virus again within 90 days after your first infection is uncommon.

It’s thought that mild infection may result in a shorter period of immunity. The good news is, even if you do catch COVID-19 for a second time, it’s likely that the second infection will cause less severe symptoms.

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What should I do if I get COVID-19 symptoms again?

The NHS guidance for reinfection is the same for a primary infection. If you start experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you should self-isolate and get tested as soon as possible.

    The three main symptoms of COVID-19 are:

    • Fever – you have a high temperature
    • New, continuous cough – you’re coughing for long periods, or having three or more episodes of coughing in the space of a day
    • Change to taste and smell – food might taste or smell different, or you might lose your taste and smell altogether

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    References

    www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#Basics
    www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/reinfection.html
    www.bmj.com/content/372/bmj.n99
    www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/11/more-people-are-getting-covid-19-twice-suggesting-immunity-wanes-quickly-some
    www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/testing-and-tracing/antibody-test-to-check-if-youve-had-coronavirus/
    https://patient.info/allergies-blood-immune/immune-system-diseases/immune-suppression
    www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html
    www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/symptoms/