A viral recovery: when COVID-19 strikes again and again

For New York musician Erica Mancini, COVID-19 has repeated performances.

March 2020. Last December. And again this month of May.

“I’m disgusted to know that I could be infected forever,” said the 31-year-old singer, who is vaccinated and boosted. “I don’t want to get sick every month or every two months.”

But medical experts warn that repeat infections become more likely as the pandemic drags on and the virus evolves – and some people are likely to be affected more than twice. New research suggests this could put them at higher risk for health problems.

There is no comprehensive data on people who get COVID-19 more than twice, although some states collect information on reinfections in general. New York, for example, is reporting about 277,000 reinfections out of 5.8 million total infections during the pandemic. Experts say the true numbers are much higher because many home COVID-19 tests go unreported.

Several public figures have recently been re-infected. US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said they had contracted COVID-19 for the second time, and US Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi said he had been tested positive a third time. All said they were fully vaccinated, and Trudeau and Becerra said they had received boosters.

“Until recently it was almost unheard of, but now it’s increasingly common” to have COVID-19 two, three or even four times, said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “If we don’t come up with better defenses, we’ll see a lot more of that.”

Why? Experts say immunity from past infections and vaccination wanes over time, leaving people vulnerable.

Additionally, the virus has evolved to be more contagious. The risk of reinfection was around seven times higher with omicron variants compared to when delta was most common, according to research from the UK. Scientists believe that the omicron mutants causing the vast majority of cases in the United States are uniquely adept at circumventing immunity to vaccination or past infection, especially infection during the omicron wave of origin. US health officials are considering whether to modify the boosters to better match recent changes in the coronavirus.

The first time Mancini contracted COVID-19, she and her fiance had fever spikes and were sick for two weeks. She was unable to get tested at the time, but had an antibody test a few months later which showed she had been infected.

“It was really scary because it was so new and we just knew people were dying from it,” Mancini said. “We were really sick. I hadn’t been sick like this for a long time.

She got vaccinated with Pfizer in the spring of 2021 and thought she was protected from another infection, especially since she was sick before. But while such “hybrid immunity” can provide strong protection, it doesn’t guarantee someone won’t get COVID-19 again.

Mancini’s second fight, which happened during the massive omicron wave, started with a sore throat. She initially tested negative, but still felt ill while driving to a concert four hours away. So she hopped into a Walgreens and did a quick test in her car. It was positive, she said, “so I just turned around and went back to Manhattan.”

This fight turned out to be milder, with “the worst sore throat of my life”, stuffy nose, sneezing and coughing.

The most recent illness was even milder, causing sinus pressure, brain fog, dizziness and fatigue. This one, positive during a home test and confirmed by a PCR test, struck despite its Moderna reminder.

Mancini has no known health conditions that could put her at risk for COVID-19. She takes precautions like masking at the grocery store and on the subway. But she usually doesn’t wear a mask on stage.

“I’m a singer, and I’m in these crowded bars and I’m in these little clubs, some of which don’t have a lot of ventilation, and I’m just around a lot of people,” Mancini said. , who also plays accordion and percussion. “It’s the price I paid for having done a lot in recent years. This is how I earn my living.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why some people get re-infected and others don’t, but think several things may be at play: health and biology, exposure to particular variants, how much virus spreads in a community, vaccination status and behavior. British researchers found that people were more likely to be re-infected if they were unvaccinated, younger, or had a mild infection the first time.

Scientists also don’t know how long a person can be infected after a previous fight. And there is no guarantee that each infection will be milder than the previous one.

“I’ve seen it go both ways,” said Houston Methodist pathologist Dr. Wesley Long. In general, however, breakthrough infections that occur after vaccination tend to be milder, he said.

Doctors have said getting vaccinated and boosted is the best protection against severe COVID-19 and death, and there’s evidence it also lowers the chances of reinfection.

At this point, there haven’t been enough documented cases of multiple reinfections “to really know what the long-term consequences are,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the university’s school of tropical medicine. Baylor.

But a large new study using data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which has not yet been peer-reviewed by scientists, provides insight, finding that reinfection increases the risk of serious outcomes and health problems. such as lung problems, heart disorders. and diabetes from a first infection. The risks were most pronounced when a person had COVID-19, but also persisted beyond acute illness.

After Mancini’s last fight, she struggled with dizziness, headaches, insomnia and sinus issues, though she wondered if it was more due to her busy schedule. In a recent week, she’s had 16 shows and rehearsals — and has no room for another COVID-19 revival.

“It wasn’t fun,” she said. “I don’t want to have it anymore.”

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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