While COVID-19 is a deadly infectious disease, we know people who are infected with the coronavirus can recover and continue with their lives. Less known is whether they can get infected again. Do they have immunity to the coronavirus?
Currently people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 are urged to continue to practice social distancing and other COVID-19 safety guidelines. Public health officials say those who’ve recovered might have some protective immunity to the virus, but the extent of that immunity is not known at this time.
“The bottom line is not to let your guard down, even after recovery,” says Ghazala Sharieff, MD, chief medical officer, clinical excellence and experience at Scripps Health. “Everyone should continue taking precautions to avoid infection whether they previously had the illness or not.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that immunity after COVID-19 recovery could last at least three months. This is based largely on how our immune systems respond to other types of coronaviruses, including those that cause the common cold. More still needs to be known about immunity to COVID-19.
So far, very few confirmed cases of COVID-19 reinfection have been reported. But experts say the new coronavirus has not been around long enough to know the true reinfection rate. They say more needs to be known about the immune response to COVID-19.
“For now, it is safer to assume we are still vulnerable even after recovery,” Dr. Sharieff says.
The CDC provides guidance to people who’ve recovered from COVID-19. They don’t need to quarantine or get tested again for up to three months as long as they don’t develop symptoms again. Caution is urged because we’re still learning about immunity protection for COVID.
Current studies are focusing on several questions about reinfection, including:
- How likely is reinfection?
- How often does reinfection occur?
- How soon after the initial infection can reinfection take place?
- How severe are cases of reinfection?
- Who might be at higher risk for reinfection?
- What does reinfection mean for a person’s immunity?
- Can a person spread COVID-19 to others when reinfected?
Another question is whether COVID-19 will become a seasonal virus. It’s too early to tell. But as winter approaches and people stay indoors more often, it’s important to remain guarded.
“Stay safe and be careful with gatherings in places with poor ventilation, which can increase the risk of COVID-19 infections,” Dr. Ghazala says.
Whether you’ve had COVID-19 or not, the best way to prevent infection is to take steps to protect yourself, including:
- Wearing a face mask in public places
- Staying at least six feet away from other people
- Washing your hands frequently
- Avoiding crowds and confined spaces