10/25 News Flash 9: Genomic evidence for reinfection with SARS-CoV-2: a case study

Although community immunity may seem like the only solution to the pandemic, a case study published in The Lancet suggests that this way out is not as straightforward as it seems. A team from Nevada showed that an otherwise healthy 25-year old caught the virus for a second time after fully recovering, confirming the fear that reinfection is possible for COVID-19.

Similar claims have been made before; however, it is often difficult to rule out the possibility that the “second” infection is not just a resurgence of the disease after a period of dormancy. However, in this case, the researchers showed that the genomes collected from each episode were too different from each other, the only feasible explanation being that they came from two independent infections.

Although there is cause for concern, it is not known whether this is a rare anomaly rather than the norm. If cases like these are sporadic enough, they might not interfere with COVID-19 immunization and prevention. Nonetheless, this report serves as a reminder that little is known about this disease, and thus extreme caution is essential even when our intuitions might suggest otherwise.