People who have had COVID-19 more than once are two or three times more likely to have a variety of serious health problems than those who have only had it once, according to the findings of the first major study on the subject released Thursday.
As the pandemic continues and the virus evolves into new strains, the number of infections has increased, but it is unclear what the long-term health repercussions of reinfection will be.
The US researchers said that their new study, which was published in the Nature Medicine journal, was the first to examine how reinfection raises the risk of health issues from both acute instances and long-term COVID-19. Additionally, they examined 5.8 million anonymous medical records from the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ national healthcare database.
More than 443,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 at least once between March 1, 2020, and April 1, 2019. Of that group, about 41,000 had COVID-19 more than once. Over 93% of all patients had a total of two infections, 6% had three, and just under 1% had four. The remaining 5.3 million people never developed COVID-19.
According to Ziyad Al-Aly, an epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis as well as the study’s principal author, “those who got reinfected have an elevated risk of all sorts of adverse health conditions” when the researchers examined the health outcomes of the various groups.
According to the study, those who had repeated infections had a doubled risk of dying young and a tripled risk of being hospitalised with a disease. Heart and lung difficulties were more than three times more likely in patients who had been reinfected. Diabetes, kidney illness, and brain disorders are also impacted by reinfection, according to the study. Additionally, research implied that the likelihood of these issues could rise with each infection.
Al-Aly forewarned that this would “certainly exacerbate the burden of disease in the population” if there were constant reinfections. He advised individuals to put on masks in order to protect themselves in advance of a feared COVID-19 increase during the Christmas season. He also asked officials to take stronger action to halt the spread of COVID-19.
The fact that our current vaccination method does not prevent transmission, he claimed, is the cause of reinfection. Until we develop vaccines that prevent transmission, provide more robust protection, and are thus mutant proof, I believe reinfections will continue to occur. The study’s weaknesses, according to the authors, included the fact that the majority of the veteran participants were elderly white males. The conclusions of the study were deemed “worrisome” by US scholar Eric Topol when it was published as a preprint in June.
Topol noted in a Substack post that reinfections became “far more common” after April, when the study’s time frame ended, due to new, more transmissible Omicron strains. In other encouraging news, Al-Aly published an unpeer-reviewed pre-print study earlier this week that discovered that people who took Paxlovid from Pfizer within five days of testing positive had a lower risk of developing long COVID-19.