DENVER (KDVR) — Denver Health Medical Center has discovered at least four people who appear to have been reinfected with the coronavirus, more than four months after contracting the respiratory disease the first time.
The patients all had fairly mild symptoms of the disease when they originally contracted it. They recovered and eventually tested negative for the virus. More than four months later – for one reason or another – they needed to get tested again, even though they showed no symptoms. All of their COVID-19 tests came back positive.
“It’s alarming in the sense that they can possibly propagate the infection,” said Denver Health infectious disease expert, Dr. Cory Hussain. “(This means) you’re probably not immune to begin with…and we don’t know if you’re infective or not. And there’s a good possibility you are.”
Denver Health has not reported the cases as an official reinfection, in part, because the patients’ first tests were not genetically mapped. That’s happened with a few coronavirus reinfections in Asia and one in Nevada.
“That’s not really a surprise to us,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, an infectious disease expert at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “If you think about most of the respiratory viruses, how many colds have you had in your lifetime? A lot. And often it can be the same virus that infects you.”
Barron, Hussain and many infectious disease experts now believe the immunity people who contract COVID-19 build up, wears off over time.
Researchers are also looking at the possibility that the coronavirus is mutating.
“Again, that would not be unexpected, Barron said. “Could it make the virus less intense? Certainly. Could it make it worse? Possibly.
This also has major implications for the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine. Doctors said it may end up being like the influenza vaccine, which is given annually and does not always offer complete protection from the virus.
“We don’t know how long the immune response is going to last,” Hussain said. “It’s going to take a while. We’re not going to flip and switch and COVID’s gone.”