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First case of person 'infected with Covid for a second time'


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Scientists have reported the world's first case of a human being reinfected with the coronavirus - in a discovery that could have significant implications for the development of vaccines, and hopes of natural immunity against the virus.

Researchers at Hong Kong University's department of microbiology said genetic sequencing of the virus showed a Hong Kong man was infected twice by different versions of the coronavirus months apart.

According to the study, the patient was a 33-year-old man in good health. When he was first infected, he suffered a cough, sore throat, fever and headache for three days. He had a test confirming Covid-19 and was hospitalised on March 29.

He was discharged on April 14 after two negative swab tests. Four months later, he was returning to Hong Kong from Spain via the UK, when he tested positive during entry screening at Hong Kong airport on August 15. He was hospitalised again but had no symptoms throughout.

Experts cautioned against jumping to conclusions based on one case, but said it was a concern.

The Hong Kong University researchers said: "An apparently young and healthy patient had a second episode of Covid-19 infection diagnosed 4.5 months after the first episode.

"This case illustrates reinfection can occur after a few months of recovery from the first infection.

"Our findings suggest Sars-CoV-2 may persist in the human population, as is the case for other common-cold associated human coronaviruses, even if patients have acquired immunity via natural infection.

"Since the immunity can be short-lasting after natural infection, vaccination should also be considered for those with one episode of infection.

"Patients with previous Covid-19 infection should also comply with epidemiological control measures such as universal masking and social distancing."

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If the research, published in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, is correct, then it could mean that vaccines against the virus do not give permanent protection and people will not be able to rely on being immune to the virus after recovering from an infection.

Dr David Strain, from the University of Exeter, said: "This is a worrying finding for several reasons. The first, as is laid out in this manuscript, is that it suggests that previous infection is not protective. The second is that it raises the possibility vaccinations may not provide the hope we have been waiting for.

"Vaccinations work by simulating infection to the body, thereby allowing the body to develop antibodies. If antibodies don't provide lasting protection, we will need to revert to a strategy of viral near-elimination in order to return to a more normal life."

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, urged caution, arguing it was hard to draw conclusions until the full study had been published. (© Independent News Service)

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