Ask Dr. Nandi: Recovered coronavirus patients are testing positive again. Can you get reinfected?

Posted at 5:38 PM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 23:41:28-04

(WXYZ) — South Korea may have flattened the curve, but a growing number of recovered coronavirus patients have relapsed and have tested positive again. So, is it possible to get reinfected and spread the virus to others?

Well, it is concerning that this is happening. But so far, the numbers overall are low.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or KCDC for short has reported that 163 people or 2.1 percent of those infected have retested positive. As to why this is happening, we’re not exactly sure but, there are some potential reasons.

  • It could be because the virus had not completely cleared a person’s system and then it reactivated.
  • Or it’s possible that the virus went dormant and then reactivated.
  • Or maybe a person’s immune system continued to weaken after initially fighting off the virus, which then opened the door for it to rebound.
  • Also, we’re still learning about antibodies and immunity. So there’s a possibility that some folks are just not developing enough antibodies to protect themselves.

As for getting reinfected by someone who has the virus, that is a less likely scenario. But hopefully, we’ll have more concrete answers in the near future, because the World Health Organization has said that they are looking into this.

  • Some of the folks who relapsed have been feeling sick, roughly 44% have had mild symptoms. And while the KCDC has said that there’s been no indication that these relapsed patients are spreading the virus, we actually don’t know for sure if they are or not able to shed the virus. And that’s why it’s good that scientists are looking closely at this.

It’s possible that there could be problems with testing. Maybe the chemicals were not quite right, or maybe the virus mutated and the test is not accurately identifying it.

The KCDC did acknowledge that inaccurate testing could be a potential cause but they feel that it’s unlikely. Because any person who suddenly tested positive again was tested a second time to confirm the initial results.

But I do want to point out that these tests are very sensitive. It’s possible that they’re picking up remnants of the virus, parts that aren’t infectious or transmittable.

In fact, scientists found that six cases where a person had relapsed, the virus was not able to be cultivated in isolation. Meaning that it is either so small it’s not transmissible, or that it’s dead.

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