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Repeat COVID Infections Could Be Deadly, Study Says

Repeat COVID infections could be deadly, Study Says
Repeat COVID infections could be deadly, Study Says Credit: The World Health Organization

Repeat COVID-19 infections could be deadly or lead to severe health consequences including organ failure, a new study has revealed.

Research conducted by Washington University’s School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System found that people who have been infected with the virus numerous times were twice as likely to die.

Those same individuals were also three times more likely to be hospitalized during their initial illness for a longer term than those who only had it once, Nature Medicine revealed in an article published on Thursday.

Patients with reinfections were additionally three times more likely to develop heart conditions, three and a half times more susceptible to developing lung issues and 1.6 times more prone to brain conditions.

Multiple infections increase risk of death

People who have had multiple infectionsalso had a twofold increased risk of death, risk of long covid and fatigue. There was also a threefold increase in the likelihood of blood clotting disorder. The data applied regardless of their vaccination status or whether they had had a booster shot.

“During the past few months, there’s been an air of invincibility among people who have had COVID-19 or their vaccinations and boosters, and especially among people who have had an infection and also received vaccines, some people started referring to these individuals as having a sort of super immunity to the virus,” senior author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly said.

He further stated that “Without ambiguity, our research showed that getting an infection a second, third or fourth time contributes to additional health risks in the acute phase, meaning the first 30 days after infection, and in the months beyond, meaning the long COVID phase.”

5.8 million electronic medical records analyzed

5.8 million electronic medical records in the VA’s national health-care database were analyzed. The patients were of all races, ages and sexes, and included people who had never been infected. Of that number, 443,588 had had it once and 40,947 repeat infections.

The research is just a small part of the story on reinfection and SARS-CoV-2, however. Everyone’s immune system had never encountered the virus before the pandemic began.

More than 80% of Americans are estimated to have been infected with the coronavirus at least once and the median time between the first and second infection was 191 days.

People’s response to reinfection not yet clear

Some people have been infected and reinfected with different variants, as well as vaccinated and boosted with different products, creating great diversity in our immune systems across the world nearly three years later.

This means that there are no simple answers to how a previous infection would affect someone’s response to reinfection.

The study accounted for both the Delta and Omicron variants. The latter group had people with two or three infections. A smaller number of those had had more than four.

Al-Aly recommended getting additional COVID vaccine boosters, masking and staying home when ill. He said, “This means that even if you’ve had two COVID-19 infections, it’s better to avoid a third. And if you’ve had three infections, it’s best to avoid the fourth.”

COVID 19 related deaths dropped dramatically this week

The World Health Organization announced on Wednesday that COVID-19 related deaths had dropped 90% globally this week compared to the steep toll recorded in February.

One question looms though for people who have endured one bout of covid-19. That is how much protected are they from sickness and / or death if they get infected again.

According to a study from the Department of Veterans Affairs of nearly 41,000 people who had suffered reinfection, chances were not as high as one might think.

Ziyad Al-Aly, one of the study’s authors and chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Health Care System said a second, third or further infections can lead to health complications just as much as the first one can.

SARS-CoV-2 Virus that causes COVID19
SARS-CoV-2 Virus that causes COVID19 Credit: Rawpixel Ltd CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

A second COVID infection risks death

Al-Aly, who is also a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University, revealed that “Getting it a second time is almost like you’re trying your chance again with Russian roulette. You may have dodged a bullet the first time, but each time you get the infection you are trying your luck again.”

It is important to keep in mind that research using electronic medical records “does not reliably predict a causal relationship,” Monica Gandhi, an infectious-diseases specialist at the University of California at San Francisco commented.

Gandhi pointed to other studies as well, including one that took a look at 26 studies of reinfections from Qatar which showed they became less severe over time.

Other studies find it not to progress severely

Examinations of patients with different vaccination histories further found that reinfections tend not to progress to severe, critical or fatal outcomes. Those studies have however not yet been peer-reviewed.

Gandhi also revealed that there is research showing that infection, reinfection, vaccination and boosting broaden and diversify components of the immune system, a fact that may make people “better able to respond to the newest subvariants as we continue to live with covid-19.”

William Schaffner, an infectious-diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center said the findings are consistent with recent work about the long-term consequences of the flu. Those showed how the virus stimulates an immune response that can “smolder” after the initial illness.

Schaffner, who was not involved in the study said, “All these respiratory viruses seem to have long-term effects we have not appreciated in the past.”

Getting reinfected matters, so precautions suggested

Al-Aly’s research began as a way to answer questions asked by patients he had seen at the VA in spring 2022 as the omicron variant surged. “They had been infected before and vaccinated, and they were talking as if they were invincible,” he said.

He and his colleagues therefore began looking into the question of whether reinfection mattered. “The short answer is, absolutely. It absolutely does,” he said.

Al-Aly suggested that people should reconsider what they can do to minimize their risk of infection as we enter a winter when flu, respiratory syncytial virus and coronavirus are circulating.

“I’m not advocating for lockdown or any draconian measures, but I feel if you are boarding a plane, for example, to see your family for Thanksgiving, well, wear that mask as it will protect you and those around you,” he advised.

Measures to limit viral spread of COVID 19

The CDC has begun a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on the individual to limit viral spreading caused by the loosening of many of its recommendations for battling the virus.

The most recent omicron subvariant BA.5, for example, has quickly become the dominant strain in the United States.

The CDC recommends that everyone above 12 years of age should get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant.

Everyone is eligible if it has been at least two months since having the first vaccination or the last booster.

An initial vaccine series for children under 5 became available this summer, and the FDA has cleared updated coronavirus booster shots for children as young as 5 as well.

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