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First case of COVID-19 reinfection has been confirmed

“An apparently young and healthy patient had a second case of Covid-19 infection which was diagnosed 4.5 months after the first episode,” University of Hong Kong researchers said Monday in a statement, per the New York Times.

The unidentified man came down with a mild case of COVID-19 back in March and recovered. This time, the man had no symptoms, but the reinfection was discovered when he returned from a trip to Spain, the researchers said. It appears the second strain of COVID-19 he picked up in Spain was the mutated strain that took off in Europe before spreading to the U.S.

This revelation could prove to be very concerning because it suggests immunity may last only a few months in some people. And it has serious implications for vaccines being developed for the virus.

There have been scattered reports of apparent reinfection from the coronavirus, but many of them have been based on “anecdotal evidence” or flaws in the testing itself. But this case is decidedly different because genetic sequencing of the patient’s blood samples from his original illness and this latest positive result were done.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong sequenced the virus from the patient’s two infections and found that they did not match, indicating the second infection was not tied to the first, according to STAT News.

Specifically, “there was a difference of 24 nucleotides- the ‘letters’ that make up the virus’ RNA – between the two infections,” the researchers explained. “This is the world’s first documentation of a patient who recovered from Covid-19 but got another episode of Covid-19 afterwards,” the researchers said in a statement.

“Our findings suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may persist in humans,” Kwok-Yung Yuen and colleagues said Monday in a paper accepted for publication in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. The findings are reminiscent of the coronaviruses that cause the common cold, and suggest SARS-CoV-2 may continue to circulate “even if patients have acquired immunity via natural infection or via vaccination,” they said.

In a response to the news, Maria van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19, told reporters in Geneva Monday that most patients, even those with a mild case of the coronavirus, mount a immune response to the infection, however, what we don’t know is how long that immune response lasts.

“It’s important to document cases like the one described in Hong Kong, but not jump to any conclusions,” Van Kerkhove said. “And we need to look at something like this at a population level,” she added.

“What we are learning about infection is that people do develop an immune response, and what is not completely clear yet is how strong that immune response is and for how long that immune response lasts,” Van Kerkhove said. She added she was still reviewing the Hong Kong case.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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