It’s been clearly established that you can get Covid-19 more than once. But how about getting Covid-19 twice within three weeks? That could make for a not so positive three weeks. Or in the case of Covid-19 testing, a far too positive three weeks.
Well, that’s apparently what happened to a 31-year-old woman in Spain, according to a press release from the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID). Her story was the subject of a case report that’s being presented at the ECCMID, which is taking place in Lisbon, Portugal, from April 23 to 26.
Now “subject of medical case report” may not be something that you typically list on a resume or a dating profile. That’s because a medical case report often means that an unusual and not so good story has happened. In this case, the story started on December 20 2021. That day, the woman, who’s a health care worker, underwent routine Covid-19 screening with a PCR test. In this case, PCR stood for polymerase chain reaction, which is more accurate at diagnosing Covid-19 than antigen tests, and not pickled cabbage reserve, which would be very inaccurate. The PCR test came back positive for Covid-19, which then prompted her to go into isolation for ten days. All the while, she had never developed any symptoms. Eventually, whole genome sequencing of the sample revealed that she had been infected with the Delta variant of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Now, this was considered a “breakthrough” case because she had been fully vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19 already. The booster had come 12 days prior her testing positive for Covid-19, just under the two weeks that it may take for the booster to achieve its full effect. Of course, the full effect from the booster doesn’t mean 100% protection. As I’ve indicated for Forbes previously, while the vaccine can provide good protection against severe Covid-19, it’s not like a concrete full-body condom. Nevertheless, being fully vaccinated and boosted should leave you more protected than just being fully vaccinated. And being fully vaccinated should leave you much more protected than not being vaccinated at all.
If the story had ended there, it probably wouldn’t have made it as a medical case report. The saga continued after she completed her isolation stint and returned to work. On January 10, 2022, just 20 days after her first positive Covid-19 test, she began feeling ill with a cough and fever. This couldn’t have been Covid-19 again, right? After all, 20 days is just under two Scaramuccis, which is a really short time. There had been no documented cases of someone getting infected a second time so soon after the first. And haven’t some people of social media been claiming that once you’ve been infected previously you don’t have to worry about getting Covid-19 again?
Alas, the words of Whitesnake, “here I go again,” ended up applying here. She got another PCR test, and voilà she was positive for Covid-19 yet again. Was this second positive test simply from a lingering first infection? Like the TV show Supernatural, did the infection last longer than it should have? Or was this second positive Covid-19 test indeed a sign of a completely new infection? Well, whole genome sequencing found that this second time the culprit was not the Delta variant again but instead the Omicron variant. It was a whole new infection with a different version of the virus. So, basically someone who had been fully vaccinated, boosted, and had a prior Covid-19 coronavirus infection had gotten infected by, drum roll please, the SARS-CoV-2 again.
The press release quoted one the case report’s authors, Gemma Recio, MD, from the Institut Català de Salut, Tarragona, Spain, as saying, “This case highlights the potential of the Omicron variant to evade the previous immunity acquired either from a natural infection with other variants or from vaccines. In other words, people who have had Covid-19 cannot assume they are protected against reinfection, even if they have been fully vaccinated.” If you think about it, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be susceptible to get infected again as soon as you are no longer infected with the virus. No one has said that immune protection from a natural infection is 100%, especially with new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 continuing to emerge.
Consider this case report yet another warning that neither natural immunity nor vaccination alone is going to fully protect you against Covid-19 right now. Believing that these by themselves will be enough to keep you covered while the pandemic is still going on would be akin to walking into a job interview or a date wearing no more than your underwear and thinking, “yeah, I’ve got this.” As long as the virus continues to circulate as widely as it is now, it’s a good idea to maintain other Covid-19 precautions such as social distancing and face mask use. Otherwise, you’d putting yourself at risk for getting infected again. And potentially again and again and again.