Coronavirus outbreak: People who have recovered might catch the infection again, warn Chinese doctors
Because coronavirus is a new infection, our bodies do not produce antibodies strong enough to prevent patients from getting sick again, say doctors
Many coronavirus patients appear to be recovering fully but Chinese authorities warn there could be more to the virus than meets the eye.
People who have recovered from the Wuhan coronavirus might run the risk of catching it again, believe Chinese doctors. So far, 1,540 patients have recovered from the infection in China, most of whom have returned to good health. “For those patients who have been cured, there is a likelihood of a relapse,” Zhan Qingyuan, the director of pneumonia prevention and treatment at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, said during a press conference on Friday, February 7. "Cured patients should also enhance their health safeguards," he said.
Generally, our immune system responds to an infection by producing antibodies. These antibodies, in turn, defend us if the intruder --either bacteria or virus --were to attack again. But because the coronavirus is new, people often do not build strong immunity against it, say doctors. This means that antibodies created after the infection are not always strong enough to prevent patients from falling sick again.
“The antibody will be generated. However, in certain individuals, the antibody cannot last that long,” Zhan added.
The number of infections in China has hit the 31K mark, with a death toll of 636. It has since spread to over 24 countries, infecting over 200 people.
Uncertainty over the claim
"With many infectious diseases, a person can develop immunity against a specific strain after exposure or infection," Amira Roess, a professor of Global Health and Epidemiology George Mason University, told Business Insider.
"Often, that person will not get sick again upon subsequent exposure to it. Regarding this specific strain of coronavirus, scientists are working to understand this question."
Another researcher, Dr Bharat Pankhania, a medical lecturer at the University of Exeter, thinks there are many unknowns. "We do not know how the majority of patients get infected, or the course of their illness, or their recovery time, or whether they relapse. We don't know," he told MailOnline.
Another scientist thinks the possibility of the virus infecting people more than once is slim. "The claim seems very unlikely. There are situations where [relapse] happens, but given the timing of the nCoV19 outbreak I think it is unlikely that there is solid evidence to back this claim up," Dr Paul Digard, an immunology expert at the University of Edinburgh, told MailOnline.
Viruses tend to infect people more than once when they change or mutate --this helps them evade getting detected by the immune system. Coronavirus, on the other hand, has changed very little, says Dr Digard. And these changes do not interfere with the bodies' ability to destroy it.
"It is also worth noting that for flu, the timescale of changes that do allow reinfection is measured in years, not days," he adds.