As America’s governors look to open their economies, a common aspiration has been tracking the immunity of citizens. But what if it’s possible to catch the coronavirus more than once?
According to Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, recent reports of more than 100 South Koreans testing positive twice raises the possibility — however faint — that a new strain has developed, the Daily Star reports.
South Korea reported Monday that 116 or more people who were thought to have recovered from the virus tested positive a second time, according to the Daily Star, raising concerns of reinfection as the country — and the world — hopes to soon overcome the devastating pandemic. But the reasons for the relapse could be manifold, according to various experts.
Speaking with Fox News’ Harris Faulkner, Dr. Nesheiwat speculated that it’s possible that the patients were tested incorrectly when they were told they recovered, a so-called “false negative,” the Daily Star reported. Another possibility is that some trace of the coronavirus lingered in the body and “reactivated,” which sometimes happens with diseases like herpes or shingles, she said. Finally, there’s a possibility that the virus has mutated into a new strain.
“The good thing is, I’m not seeing this in a lot of my patients,” she said, according to the Daily Star. “It’s not a major, major issue with a lot of the patients that I’m seeing right now.”
In South Korea, officials identified some of the same possibilities, from issues with testing, to “relapse,” to genuine re-infections, according to Reuters. So far, there aren’t any cases of the patients spreading the virus to others.
“South Korean health authorities still haven’t found cases where the ‘reactivated’ patients spread the virus to third parties, but if such infectiousness is proven, that would be a huge problem,” Seol Dai-wu, who Reuters described as “an expert in vaccine development and a professor at Chung-Ang University,” told the outlet.
America looks for immunity
There are now over two million coronavirus infections around the world, and multiple strains of it have been identified. If a new strain is emerging, that’s not necessarily unusual, but hypothetically, a significant mutation could complicate efforts to overcome the virus, the New York Post notes.
In the United States, various governors have made the development of widespread immunity a precondition for ending draconian lockdowns. Following Dr. Anthony Fauci, some have looked to widespread “antibody tests” to determine who is immune, prompting concerns of overreach with so-called “immunity cards.” The desired end state is a scenario called “herd immunity,” in which a majority of the population has built up immunity against the virus.
Getting there will be a lot easier with a vaccine, but that could take up to 18 months. Developing a vaccine may also be complicated by how fast the virus is mutating: if it’s changing quickly, then vaccines may have a lower shelf life, the New York Post said.
Currently, experts in America don’t think the population is anywhere close to herd immunity. “At the community level, there would not have been enough infections to really have enough umbrella of herd immunity,” Fauci told CNN in March, according to Business Insider.
How long will this go on for?