Just as boxers in the ring must never lower their guard against new onslaughts from rival fists, humanity in the global ring also has to keep up preventive measures against cases of reinfection by SARS-CoV-2.
Precautions should be maintained, but without fuss or exaggeration. The cases of reinfection that have recently been reported worldwide are not cause for special alarm, state three Mexican scientists in an interview for Tec Review.
The first of them, Mauricio Rodríguez Álvarez, is a professor at the Faculty of Medicine and spokesman for the Covid-19 Commission of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He believes that no definitive conclusions can yet be drawn regarding the recently studied cases of reinfection.
“In the last few days, some cases have been documented of people who have been infected for a second time, after having suffered a previous SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection. The significance of reinfections is not yet clear, and a pattern that starts to repeat itself systematically in several countries simultaneously has not been found,” says the UNAM academic.
The second scientist is Susana López Charretón, a researcher at the UNAM Institute of Biotechnology, who comments that the phenomenon of Covid-19 reinfections is perhaps more frequent than we think, just like other diseases.
“Just as with most viral infections, there are a lot of people who have no symptoms. We know that in cases of Dengue or Zika, only 2 in every 10 people show symptoms. This could also happen with COVID-19. It is possible that the first infection causes strong symptoms, and the following infections not so much. In Mexico, however, there are not enough tests being done even for sick people. It is therefore difficult for asymptomatic carriers to be detected, because this population is just not being studied,” says the specialist.
The different possibilities
The third expert is Ramón Antonio González García Conde, President of the Mexican Society of Virology, who has segmented cases of Covid-19 reinfection into the following three different scenarios:
“It could be that a person’s immune response has not generated sufficiently long-lasting protection; i.e. over the months since the first infection, the immune response has not been sufficient to protect against reinfection,” he comments.
Another possibility, according to this expert, is that during reinfection people come across a virus that is no longer exactly the same. It is to be expected that different variants of the virus will emerge as time passes.
“The third possibility, which should concern us more and which we should pay close attention to, is that, regardless of whether there is an immune response to protect a person from an infection, it could be that this response is not enough to defend someone from subsequent contagion,” says González García Conde.
According to this expert, in the study of Covid-19 reinfections, there is an extra component that should not be forgotten: “so little time has passed that the immune response of the population to this coronavirus is not known in detail.”
No one has told us to let our guard down
There have been around 22 million people infected with Covid-19 worldwide from January to the present, and the number of cases of reinfection reported has not been significant. However, this does not mean that we should not pay attention to it.
The idea is that we must remain vigilant and continue implementing preventive measures so as to slow the advance of the pandemic.
“We still cannot say that reinfection is a major problem; however, the first reported cases obliged epidemiological surveillance and basic and clinical research systems to put in place strategies for the detection and management of these patients,” says Mauricio Rodríguez.
He also clarifies that because the epidemic has not yet finished, the general public is still at risk of infection, because all the people who stayed at home and protected themselves from the virus are going to go out into public spaces and could expose themselves to the disease.
“After such a long period of lockdown, the risk of relaxing prevention measures is high, and it could lead to infections,” he warns.
Susana López considers that Covid-19 reinfections should not be considered a red flag for countries, but that this should not mean that they become overconfident. “We must continue with the social distancing measures,” explains this scientist.
Ramón Antonio González agrees with her in the sense that we must not lower our guard because, regardless of reinfection, the population of Mexico is not yet out the pandemic’s first cycle.
“We must maintain safety and hygiene measures until we get through the next cycle of the pandemic; this will ensure that there is no rise greater than that we have already experienced, because that would be very risky. Over the next two years, we will have to be very conscious of applying preventive measures (against the pandemic) as a part of our societal coexistence,” concludes González.