After being infected with COVID-19, how long are you protected by antibodies and when could you contract the virus again?
The omicron variant has led to a major shift in “natural immunity”, with many previously infected people susceptible to re-infection with the new version of the virus.
Now, since omicron accounts for nearly all COVID cases in the United States, the question is how protecting one version of omicron will work against newer subvariants.
According to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, data has shown that most people infected with COVID are protected from the virus for about one to three months afterwards.
“After someone got a COVID infection, we usually saw additional protection against that,” Arwady said during a Facebook Live event on Thursday. “People aren’t very likely to get reinfected in those first three months or so.”
Especially when patients are up to date with coronavirus vaccinations, Arwady said there should be no “major concern” about contracting the virus again soon.
“At the beginning we could confidently, you know, sort of in February, we could really say with confidence that 90% of people weren’t reinfected if they already had COVID,” Arwady said last month. “It has gone down a bit around the world.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “after recovering from COVID, most individuals will have some protection against repeat infection.”
“However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19,” the CDC says, adding that changes and mutations “may lead to the emergence of variants that may increase the risk of reinfection.”
Last month, Chicago’s top doctor said experts were seeing changes in immunity to infection, noticing more breakthrough infections and natural immunity that didn’t last.
“So we know that when someone has had COVID, it’s as much about when they had it in some ways, because we still see pretty good protection if someone had a version of omicron,” Arwady said. “But we’re starting to see, as omicron has continued to evolve, we’re starting to see more people who had original omicron even in December, even getting some of these new omicron sub-variants.”
BA.4 and BA.5 are among these sub-variants, or “sublines”, of the omicron COVID variant, with the CDC also following BA.2.12.1, BA.2, B.1.1.529 and BA 1.1 , among others.
And while BA.2.12.1 accounts for the majority of cases across the country and in Illinois and Chicago again, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told NBC News that BA.4 and BA.5 are likely to be dominant in the United States. in late summer or early fall.
In addition to being even more contagious than previous variants, scientists are tracking a mutation in BA.4 and BA.5 that may help it evade some immunity and cause reinfections.
A genetic trait reminiscent of the pandemic’s past, known as the “delta mutation,” appears to allow the BA.2.12.1 subvariant” to escape pre-existing immunity from vaccination and infection. earlier, especially if you were infected in the omicron wave,” said Dr. Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas. That’s because the original omicron strain that swept the world didn’t have the mutation.
The genetic change is also present in the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 relatives. These have the exact same mutation as delta, while BA.2.12.1 has one that is nearly identical.
This genetic change is bad news for people who caught the original omicron and thought it made them unlikely to get COVID again soon.
Although most people aren’t sure which variant caused their illness, the original omicron caused a giant surge of cases late last year and early this year.
Long lab data suggests that prior infection with the original omicron is not very protective against reinfection with the new mutants, although the true risk of being reinfected, regardless of variant, is unique to each person and each situation.
According to the latest data, those who were already Delta-sick could have additional armor to ward off New Mutants. A study published before being reviewed by other scientists, by researchers at Ohio State University, found that COVID patients in intensive care with delta infections induced antibodies that neutralized new mutants better than patients who had caught the original omicron.
“The omicron infection antibody does not appear to protect well against subvariants compared to delta,” said study author Dr. Shan-Lu Liu, who co-leads the virus and pathogen program. emerging in the state of Ohio.
But Liu said the level of protection provided by a delta infection depends in part on how long a person has been sick. This is because immunity wanes over time.
People who have become delta-ill should not consider themselves invulnerable to the new subvariants, especially if they are not vaccinated, Long said. “I wouldn’t say anyone is safe.”
A recent Northwestern Medicine study showed that many so-called COVID “long haulers” continue to experience symptoms, including brain fog, tingling, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus and fatigue on average 15 months after the appearance of the virus.
“Long haulers” are defined as people who have had symptoms of COVID for six weeks or more, the hospital system said.
But, according to the CDC, four weeks after infection is when post-COVID conditions could be first identified.
“Most people with post-COVID conditions experienced symptoms within days of being infected with SARS CoV-2 when they knew they had COVID-19, but some people with post-COVID conditions don’t. didn’t notice when they first had an infection,” the CDC says.
Symptoms of long COVID can range from a wide variety of ailments, some of which may even go away and then come back later.
“Post-COVID conditions may not affect everyone equally. People with post-COVID conditions may experience health problems of different types and combinations of symptoms occurring over different durations,” reports the CDC. “Most patient symptoms improve slowly over time. However, for some people, post-COVID conditions can last months or even years after COVID-19 illness and can sometimes lead to disability.”
Testing can also become difficult for these groups, as PCR tests can “stay positive for a while”, experts have said.
“These PCR tests are very sensitive,” Arwady said. “They keep picking up dead virus in your nose for sometimes weeks, but you can’t grow that virus in the lab. You can’t spread it, but it can test positive.”
According to the CDC, some people who get COVID may have detectable virus for up to three months, but that doesn’t mean they’re contagious.
Public health officials recommend that even those who contract COVID stay up to date with their vaccinations and boosters.
“I think realistically it’s a guess, but I guess – where we’re headed, given that there’s no sign yet that COVID has stopped mutating… we need to stop it from happening. turn into hospitalizations and deaths, which are actually pretty good already between vaccines and treatments,” Arwady said. “But I think it’s likely that in the fall we’ll probably see an updated version of a reminder that has actually been changed to be more protective of how COVID has since mutated.”