Coronavirus: Scientists’ fears that re-infections may become routine – What they say about mutations

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Coronavirus: Scientists’ fears that re-infections may become routine – What they say about mutations

The future of Covid-19 may be a virus that does not seem to disappear, which “gives birth” on the one hand to new variants capable of escaping in part from the body’s defenses and on the other hand successive waves of re-infections two or even three times a year. This is the fear of some scientists, who see that re-infections of the same person tend to become routine.

The central problem is, according to the New York Times, that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has now become more capable of re-infecting people. Those who were already infected with the first variant Omicron (BA.1) report second infections from other subtypes, such as Omicron 2 (BA.2), BA2.12.1, BA.4 or BA.5.

These same people may well be infected for the third or even fourth time, even this year, according to scientists. In fact, a percentage of these patients – fortunately not large – are expected to have persistent symptoms for months or even years (the so-called “long Covid-19”).

“The virus is still evolving and many people will probably have too many re-infections in their lifetime,” said Juliette Puliam, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

It is difficult to get a clear picture of how widespread the recurrence phenomenon is already, because many of them go unnoticed as asymptomatic or are not reported by patients to health authorities. However, it is certain that re-infections are more frequent after the predominance of Omicron, compared to previous variants.

This is not something that many scientists expected, as before Omicron the scientific community had the expectation that vaccination and natural immunity due to a previous infection would prevent most re-infections. A hope that has been dashed because of Omicron and its sub-variants that manage to escape the immune defenses. As a result, everyone, whether vaccinated or not, is more or less vulnerable to multiple infections (although vaccination continues to significantly reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death).

“If we continue like this, then most people will be infected at least twice a year. I would be very surprised if that did not happen,” said virgin Christian Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute in California.

Booster doses – third or fourth – of vaccines reduce the chance of re-infection, but not much. However, they increase the immune protection, in relation to the two doses, regarding the risk of severe Covid-19.

The initial scientific estimate was that, as with the flu, the coronavirus would cause a large seasonal wave each year, probably in the fall, so the best solution would be to have a repeat vaccination shortly before the onset of this wave. In contrast, the coronavirus seems to behave more like its “cousins”, the cold coronaviruses, which circulate and cause infections almost all year round.

That’s why, according to epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University in New York, “if re-infection becomes routine, coronavirus is not going to be just what happens once a year during the winter. Nor is it just going to be a mild annoyance, in terms of the deaths it will cause “.

Previous variant infections, such as Delta, occur but are relatively rare. When a recurrence occurs, it is very likely that it is a different Micron. This is not only because each new Omicron subtype has new “aces up its sleeve”, but also because the initial Omicron infection produces a weaker immune response (than, for example, when one first became infected with Omicron). Delta), with the result that its protection weakens faster, so it is more vulnerable to re-infection than a newer Omicron. Newer subtypes have a close relationship, but also several differences, capable of making a re-infection possible in a few months.

The good news is that most people who become infected will not become seriously ill, especially if they have been vaccinated with booster doses. So far at least, the coronavirus has not found a way to completely bypass the immune system’s defenses.

“The great danger,” according to Alex Siegal, a virologist at the South Africa Institute for Health Research, “may come when a completely different variant occurs.”

Beyond that, however, there is always the “long Covid-19” range. It is still too early for scientists to say how often an infection (or re-infection) due to Omicron can lead to this long-term persistent symptom syndrome.

In any case, according to experts, it seems that every year the vaccines against Covid-19 should be renewed faster than the flu ones, in order to “monitor” the changes in the virus. Even an incomplete “matching” of a new vaccine with a new variant of the coronavirus will offer better immunity.

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