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Can you be repeatedly infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus?

Text updated on 2020-04-23

We don't know that yet. Longer-term observations on the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and our body's immune response are ongoing.

What do we know about other viruses? For influenza viruses that carry influenza (a different family of viruses from coronaviruses), immunity lasts only about 6 months. For the beta coronaviruses of the same family as the SARS-CoV-2 which caused the outbreaks of SARS and MERS, the immunity typically observed was 24-34 months.

What about SARS-CoV-2 in monkeys? A study implemented on 3 monkeys showed that the animals were immune to a second infection 28 days apart.

What about COVID-19 in humans?
A fraction of patients in Korea first developed the disease, confirmed by the presence of virus in their secretions, and then went into remission, with the production of neutralizing antibodies detected by blood tests. After a few weeks, symptoms of COVID-19 reappeared and the virus was again detected. This could indicate that the virus infected them a second time. However, it is also possible that these patients always carried the virus undetected because the dose was lower or the virus was hidden in organs that were not accessible for collection (lung, intestine, etc.). By "waking up" in a second phase, the virus would have become detectable again in nasal or oral secretions.

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Antibody persistence in MERS disease.

Payne, D. C., Iblan, I., Rha, B., Alqasrawi, S., Haddadin, A., Al Nsour, M., ... & Tamin, A. (2016). Persistence of antibodies against Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Emerging infectious diseases, 22(10), 1824. Persistence of Antibodies Against MERS Coronavirus.

Re-infection with SARS-CoV-2 in 3 macaques one month apart does not lead to a relapse.

Bao, L., Deng, W., Gao, H., Xiao, C., Liu, J., Xue, J., ... & Qi, F. (2020). Reinfection could not occur in SARS-CoV-2 infected rhesus macaques. bioRxiv.

Duration of antibodies for SARS-CoV-1 induced disease.

Wu, L. P., Wang, N. C., Chang, Y. H., Tian, X. Y., Na, D. Y., Zhang, L. Y., ... & Liang, G. D. (2007). Duration of antibody responses after severe acute respiratory syndrome. Emerging infectious diseases, 13(10), 1562. Duration of Antibody Responses after Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Characteristics of neutralizing antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in patients.

Wu, F., Wang, A., Liu, M., Wang, Q., Chen, J., Xia, S., ... & Jiang, S. (2020). Neutralizing antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in a COVID-19 recovered patient cohort and their implications.

Detection of SARS-CoV-2 viruses in previously infected individuals who developed COVID-19 in Korea.

Lan, L., Xu, D., Ye, G., Xia, C., Wang, S., Li, Y., & Xu, H. (2020). Positive RT-PCR test results in patients recovered from COVID-19. Jama.

Characteristics of antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in patients.

Zhao, J., Yuan, Q., Wang, H., Liu, W., Liao, X., Su, Y., ... & Qian, S. (2020). Antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in patients of novel coronavirus disease 2019. Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Patients treated and cured? Some patients tested positive for the virus after two negative tests.

Xiao, A.T., Tong, Y.X. and Zhang, S. (2020), False-negative of RT-PCR and prolonged nucleic acid conversion in COVID-19: Rather than recurrence. J Med Virol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/jmv.25855

Further reading

Do all infected people show symptoms?