Tuesday December 07, 2021

Are people getting re-infected with COVID-19 in Pakistan?

September 26, 2020

Doctors and pathologists working at different health facilities in Karachi have claimed that some people are not only getting re-infected with the COVID-19 in the city but have “very severe symptoms” the second time, saying novel coronavirus cases have started rising in the metropolis for the last one week.

Advising people, especially elderly patients who have already contracted the COVID-19 in Pakistan, to continue taking preventive measures in public, they said on Thursday some people who got re-infected with the virus had very severe symptoms as compared to those from their first infection. They however added that re-infection in respiratory illnesses was not very uncommon.

“I have personally seen three to four cases of the COVID-19’s re-infection at the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), who came with severe symptoms,” said Dr Saeed Khan, an associate professor and head of molecular pathology at the Dow varsity, while talking to The News.

He claimed that the phenomenon of re-infection was being observed all over the world, and now doctors and experts dealing with coronavirus cases in Karachi were also witnessing such cases. They said people infected with the disease had “short-lived” antibodies, while some people lacked antibodies despite getting infected with the coronavirus, a fact confirmed through the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

“Re-infection is not a very widespread phenomenon here in Karachi, but doctors at different hospitals in the city are seeing one or two patients with COVID-19 re-infection. We have not seen any death after re-infection, but some patients have been observed with severe symptoms, who require admission and even life-support after getting re-infected,” said Dr Khan.

Another senior pathologist and health expert, Dr Zeeshan Ansari, said he had himself seen a patient who became re-infected with the COVID-19, and the second infection was very severe, which required hospitalisation and oxygen therapy at a tertiary-care health facility.

“One of my relatives, a young patient, tested positive for the COVID-19 a few months back and remained isolated at his residence for over a month until he tested negative. On seeing his COVID-19 negative report, he was allowed to rejoin his office. A few weeks back, this guy, who is a resident of Landhi, got sick again with severe symptoms, and when tested again, he tested positive,” he said.

But Dr Ansari maintained that COVID-19 re-infection was still “an under-investigation” phenomenon, and authorities should conduct a study to ascertain whether people had started getting re-infected with the coronavirus. He added that theoretically, despite getting vaccinated against different viruses, people could get re-infected with those viruses sometime in their lifetime.

“Re-infection with viruses, especially those causing respiratory illnesses, is not very uncommon. It has happened in the case of MERS, SARS and other members of coronavirus family and this can happen with SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) too,” Dr Ansari added.

Another health physician, Dr Harris Hassan Qureshi, who is associated with the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), Karachi, posted a vide message on his Facebook wall, advising people to take preventive measures, especially those who had acquired the infection previously. He said people had started getting re-infected with the COVID-19 all over the world, including Pakistan.

“I have several friends at various hospitals in Pakistan and abroad, and they have apprised us of cases of COVID-19 re-infection. It is not a widespread phenomenon, yet people are getting re-infected with this virus, which has been proved internationally also,” he said while talking to The News.

Dr Qureshi said many hospitals were also reporting cases of COVID-19 re-infection with severe symptoms. He added antibodies were short-lived and were not providing protection against the virus beyond three to four months, and in some cases, not more than a few weeks.

On the other hand, eminent hematologist and immune system specialist Dr Tahir Shamsi said re-infections with COVID-19 was “not a very common phenomenon” as there could be hardly 25 to 50 persons around the globe who would have contracted the infection with the coronavirus again. He added that there was, however, a possibility of re-infection with COVID-19.

“SARS-COV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 is a class of viruses called RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) viruses which change their shapes. These viruses, especially those causing respiratory illnesses, can re-infect people as their initial infection does not provide life-long immunity. But in the case of COVID-19, we have not seen any widespread phenomenon of re-infection anywhere, including Pakistan,” Prof Shamsi added.