Declining numbers of infections and easing in public life: After two years of the pandemic, many are longing for a feeling of normality. However, researchers warn that Covid-19 could accompany us for a long time. Because the virus is getting better and better at infecting people multiple times.
Reinfection cases are already being reported from abroad. These are mainly triggered by the new subtypes of the omicron variant – such as BA.2 and BA2.12.1 in the USA, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.
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In addition, it seems to scientists very likely that those affected could become infected not just a second, but a third or fourth time. “The virus will continue to evolve,” epidemiologist Juliet Pulliam told The New York Times. “And there will probably be a lot of people who get infected again and again throughout their lives.”
Together with other researchers, Pulliam evaluated corona data from South Africa – with the realization that the reinfection rate with Omikron was significantly higher than with previous variants. The team published its results in the journal Science.
There would have been secondary infections at Delta as well. However, between September and November 2021, when omicron was discovered, the reinfection rate increased rapidly.
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), BA.2 is also the predominant corona variant in Europe (as of May 20). However, there is still no information on reinfections in Germany from the registration data, it said when asked by the Tagesspiegel.
After the software was updated in November 2021, it was “in principle possible for the health authorities to systematically collect additional information on cases of reinfection.” However, corresponding analyzes could only be carried out and published once sufficient data had been transmitted to the RKI.
In countries like South Africa and the United States, on the other hand, repeated corona diseases could be more noticeable because there are more recovered and vaccinated people overall. “Perception magnifies what’s actually going on biologically,” Pulliam explained. “There are simply more people who can be affected by reinfection.”
The infection process around Omikron refutes the assumption that only new variants can cause further infection. Although very similar, the omicron subvariants differ enough from each other that infection with one omicron subtype does not preclude further infection with another subtype (re-infection with the same subtype is also possible, but less likely).
Similar to the flu virus influenza, researchers had expected one major corona outbreak per year. Instead, SARS-CoV-2 seems to behave more like the corona cold viruses that circulate year-round. According to epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman from Columbia University in New York, people can become infected “several times within a year” with these viruses.
If that also applies to Corona, there is good and bad news. The good news: Anyone who has been vaccinated against Corona still has basic protection against a severe course of the disease. In addition, a severe course of reinfection with an omicron variant is relatively unlikely.
The bad news: Any infection carries the risk of contracting Long Covid. How high this risk is in omicron diseases cannot be estimated at this time.
The future approach to combating the pandemic is now being discussed. “If we keep doing this the way we’re doing now, most people will get infected at least a few times a year,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, according to the New York Times.
The scientists from South Africa advocate tracking reinfections in the future. From an expert point of view, it is also important that in order to be able to keep up with the virus, corona vaccines must be developed at a faster pace than before.