Caught Covid once but worried about reinfection? Here’s everything you need to know about immunity to the coronavirus and Omicron variant if you’ve had it once, and the importance of antibodies in keeping you healthy
Before understanding whether you’re immune to Covid and how long you could be immune for, it’s important to understand what immunity means.
Our immune system is the body’s defence against any infection, and there are two types. One is the immunity which occurs naturally after being infected by Covid and the other is the immunity induced by receiving the Covid vaccine.
After a person has had the virus, the immune system retains a memory of it. This affects how deadly the virus is and can make the disease less dangerous.
According to experts, those who have already been infected with Covid once should still have the vaccine if offered one, as it is likely to boost natural immunity.
We look into what the research says and also have Dr Gareth Nye, lecturer of anatomy and physiology at the University of Chester’s Medical School, sharing his thoughts on Covid and immunity.
Can you get Covid again if you were infected recently with a variant?
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Research shows that for those who recover from Covid, the immunity lasts anywhere between three months to five years.
There were early reports of people appearing to have multiple coronavirus infections within a short space of time, but it was later concluded that testing was the issue, with patients being incorrectly told they were free of the virus.
An ongoing study from Public Health England’s (PHE) established that there were only 44 potential re-infections found in a group of 6,614 people who previously had the virus.
The study showed that not only was reinfection uncommon, but that history of prior Covid infection was also associated with an 83% lower risk of infection.
However, researchers at Imperial College London found that the new mutant variant, Omicron, tends to still be able to infect people who contracted other strains of coronavirus. People who have had two doses of the vaccine are also susceptible to getting the Omicron variant, too.
In short, experts believe that while re-infection isn’t surprising and is definitely possible, it’s still quite uncommon and less likely if you’ve had the booster dose of the vaccine.
How long do covid antibodies last for when it comes to protecting you against reinfection?
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Those who recover from Covid have been found to have four components of immunity protection including:
Antibodies, which are proteins that circulate in the blood and recognize foreign substances like viruses and neutralize them.
Helper T cells that help to recognize pathogens.
Killer T cells which kill pathogens.
B cells that make new antibodies when the body needs them.
Researchers have found that all four of these factors last at least eight months following infection from the coronavirus.
Dr Gareth Nye, lecturer of anatomy and physiology at the University of Chester’s Medical School, tells Mirror Online: “Antibodies are the system that recognises infection and stores as a memory, so past infections and vaccines do this process meaning the next infection can be dealt with quicker.
He adds that they: “Are the way the body helps defend itself against anything it thinks is dangerous. They are specific to each “threat” so the body knows how to fight it.
“That’s all individual. So, that’s why we don’t know yet, but the advice is not to do a lateral flow test until at least a few weeks after you’ve had Covid as it may give false positive.
“If you’ve had covid recently and develop symptoms or been pinged by the NHS app then do PCR tests.”
One study from the University of Washington School of Medicine showed that antibodies are maintained for at least three months, while another revealed that even mild cases of infection produced antibodies for at least five to seven months.
Despite the fact that our body develops antibodies to fight against the virus, immunity against it is not guaranteed. So, following guidelines, such as practising social distancing and wearing a mask, are necessary to continue to stop the spread.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.