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Man in Hong Kong reinfected with COVID-19 four months after initially contracting the virus

Published on 25/08/20 at 01:16pm
Photo by Andrii Makukha

A man in Hong Kong has been reinfected with the coronavirus, stoking fears that immunity to the virus may be short-lived.

While there have been many speculated cases of reinfection, this is the first to be confirmed by a laboratory. Scientists at the University of Hong Kong carried out genetic sequencing to establish that it was a second episode of the virus which was caused by a slightly different strain. It had been previously hoped that an immune system that had fought the virus once could halt it upon second contact, even if the strain was slightly different.

The man had returned to Hong Kong from Spain via a flight from the United Kingdom; he was tested upon re-entry on 15 August and taken to hospital. He did not show any symptoms and his first infection occurred in March.

The coronavirus has mutated from its original form that widely circulated in Asia, with European countries facing a more infectious strain of the virus.

Dr Kelvin Kai-Wang To, from the University of Hong Kong, said: “Our findings suggest that COVID-19 may persist in the global human population, as is the case for other common cold-associated human coronaviruses, even if patients have acquired immunity via natural infection.”

Many have claimed to have contracted the virus twice, and some of these were confirmed to be cases of viral shedding where the infection lingers for months after the first infection.

Not everyone in the scientific community believes the reinfection case in Hong Kong is cause for concern. Brendan Wren, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told The Guardian: “With over 3m cases of COVID-19 worldwide, the first reported case of a potential re-infection with COVID-19 needs to be taken into context.

“It appears that the young and healthy adult has been reinfected with a slight COVID-19 variant from the initial infection three months previously. It is to be expected that the virus will naturally mutate over time. This is a very rare example of reinfection, and it should not negate the global drive to develop COVID-19 vaccines.”

Conor Kavanagh

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