If you’ve had COVID-19, you’re probably familiar with the exercise – masks, social distancing, testing, quarantine and recovery. Maybe you have vaccines and boosters for extra protection.
But now you have chills, fever, scratchy throat and runny nose. Could you get COVID-19 again?
Research shows you can get it twice. Even more than double, in some cases. Here’s everything you need to know about reinfection with COVID-19.
How can you get COVID again?
After recovering from your first episode of COVID-19, you have some protection against the virus. But research on older variants found that the natural immunity (specific antibodies) your body builds against COVID -19 disappears 2-3 months after infection.
Researchers are studying the new variants to find out when you might be most at risk of reinfection.
If you are vaccinated against COVID-19, it is still possible to be re-infected and pass it on to others. When the coronavirus overcomes your vaccine immunity, doctors call it a “breakthrough infection.” Indeed, COVID-19 vaccines work better to protect you against some variants than others. But you’re less likely to have severe symptoms or be hospitalized if you’ve been vaccinated.
Are the variants responsible for reinfection?
Since the coronavirus started infecting people, it has mutated and created many variants. These mutations, or changes in the genes of the virus, allow it to outpace the protection your body or the COVID-19 vaccine can offer. This makes some variants more contagious (transmissible) or easier to spread than others. It can also increase your chances of reinfection with each new wave of COVID-19.
For example, the Delta variant, prevalent in early to mid-2021, was considered the most contagious. But the most recent variant of Omicron is now the highest (dominant) variant in the United States. Research shows it spreads faster and more easily than the Delta variant and the original virus that caused COVID-19.
Can you get Omicron twice?
It is difficult to know if the same variant can infect you twice. This is because COVID-19 tests do not identify variants.
But your doctor may assume you have the variant causing most COVID-19 infections by the time you get sick. Currently, the offshoot of Omicron causing most infections is BA.5.
Who is at risk of contracting COVID-19 again?
Anyone can get COVID-19 more than once. But some people have a higher risk of reinfection.
Unvaccinated people. Studies show that unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 in the past are more than twice as likely as fully vaccinated people to be re-infected. This is because vaccines protect you longer than natural immunity.
Immunocompromised people. If you have a weakened immune system, you are more likely to get COVID-19 again, even if you are vaccinated and have had the virus before. This is because the vaccine may not be as effective for you. Doctors recommend taking booster shots to reduce your risk of reinfection.
If you are an essential worker who often comes into contact with people, such as a healthcare worker or first responder, this exposure makes you more likely to contract COVID-19 again.
How can you prevent reinfection?
To avoid getting COVID-19 again, follow the same steps you could have taken to prevent it in the first place. You should:
- Get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. If you are 5 years or older, you are also entitled to booster shots. If you have immune system issues or work in healthcare, you may need more boosters. Talk to your doctor.
- Wear a properly fitted mask in crowded spaces or indoors. Make sure it covers your nose and mouth.
- Social distancing where possible. Stay 6 feet away from others.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Disinfect surfaces you use regularly, such as counters, doorknobs, desks and telephones.
- Take precautions when traveling.