An expert has urged caution after recent reports in South Africa and elsewhere about recovered Covid-19 patients appearing to have been reinfected sparked doubts about whether people could ever gain immunity from the virus.
Vice-president of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Professor Jeffrey Mphahlele said: “It is not impossible for the coronavirus to strike the same person twice.
“However, we must be careful about such claims. It is too early for South Africans to say we have cases of reinfection, given the time frame of the pandemic.
“We know that here in South Africa the first people who became ill were exposed to the virus between March and April. We then had community transmissions from April and May. This means the time frame is not that long. Maybe in about September, the talk about reinfection will be more convincing.
“What is more probable is that what people are referring to as reinfection is actually just a case of persistent infection. This means that the immune system of the sick person who was hospitalised treated and recovered never fully cleared itself of the initial infection.”
According to Mphahlele, people infected with the virus produce antibodies and it is quite normal for the antibodies to decline after an infection abates.
“While infection cannot be ruled out, we need to monitor those who have been sick with the virus for at least six months to be certain,” said Mphahlele.
Professor in the Centre for HIV and STIs at the National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD), Adrian Puren said there is no definitive proof at this time that people previously infected with Covid-19, could get reinfected with the virus.
In terms of symptoms, a fever is a good indicator of when the individual has the most of a particular virus, and is one’s body responding through an immune response.
“When you have those symptoms, that is your body responding to the virus. It is seeing it as something that is foreign and has to be removed so the immune system is activated. There is a co-ordinated response to try and eliminate this particular virus,” he said.
“It’s thought that within five to seven days your body would have eliminated this particular virus and so we have given a little more buffer just to be sure so by day 10 you should have recovered and specifically we’re looking at fever.”