What happens if I inhale coronavirus again?

Listener Alice has already been infected with the coronavirus. What happens if she is exposed to it again?
30 June 2020


A graphic showing a face mid-cough and some virus particles.



Although I have had the virus, can I pick it up again, and not get infected myself but infect other people? What will the virus do in my body if I inhale it again?


Welcome to the mailbox - and this week, Chris Smith tackled this question from listener Alice, a hospital worker...

Chris - Alice, as far as we know at the moment, once you’ve had the coronavirus you can’t be reinfected, at least in the short term. So if you inhale a stream of virus particles, the immune memory from your previous encounter will protect you. And if you can’t catch it, you can’t give it to someone else.

But what we don’t know is how long that immune memory will last. What’s got researchers worried is that infections with other members of the coronavirus family - that cause colds in winter but otherwise work very similarly to the covid coronavirus - don’t produce long term immunity.

So, in summary: after you’ve been infected, you’re COVID-safe in the short term, over weeks to months, to yourself and to others. But what happens long term, over months to years, is unknown for now.


[Update added 01.09.20 - A report from Hong Kong has since documented the case of a man reinfected with SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus about 3 months after previous hospitalisation with the virus. His second bout of infection was caused by a genetically distinct strain of the virus, proving reinfection (rather than sustained low-level carriage) had occurred. This suggests that, at least in some people, immunity produced in response to even a severe case of Covid disease, may not be long lived. https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa1275/58...


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