Covid-19 reinfection: Heed ICMR’s warning

Covid-19 reinfection: Heed ICMR’s warning

Representative image.

The warning issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) about the possibility of reinfection for those who have recovered from Covid-19 should be taken seriously by individuals and families. The ICMR has said that those who were infected and have recovered from the virus attack may contract it again if the antibodies created by the body in the fight against the virus start depleting and weakening.

There is a possibility of this because these antibodies do not give permanent immunity as in the case of some other virus infections. Since the nature and behaviour of the coronavirus is still largely unknown, there is no clear understanding of the problem of reinfection. There are different views on what should be called a reinfection and how long it should take for a second coming of the infection to be called a reinfection. There is also the problem of distinguishing between the viral debris left over from the first infection and a new infection. The RT-PCR tests cannot do that.

The ICMR has said it will regard a second coming of the virus in an individual as a case of reinfection if it happens after 90 days from the first infection. Some experts think that is arbitrary and that cases of reinfection may be missed out because of the fixed criterion. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not spelt out the criterion so clearly. There are differences in individuals with respect to the emergence of anti-bodies and their presence in the body.

There are cases of reinfection that happened within a wide range of 19 to 100 days of recovery. If the ICMR criterion is adopted, only three cases have been reported from India and 24 cases globally. Even so, it must be noted that an ever larger number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 cross the 90-day period every day, and must be seen as susceptible to reinfection.

That is why the ICMR has said that there should be no complacency and those who have recovered from the disease should continue to take precautionary measures like wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distance. They should not think that they are safe after recovery. Some experts have held that the immunity acquired from fighting the virus might lessen the gravity of the disease in case there is reinfection.

But there is also the view that reinfection might pose a greater danger to many who suffer post-Covid-19 complications. Questions about reinfection become more important in areas which experience a resurgence or a second wave of the pandemic. The ICMR’s warning should therefore be heeded even though there are not many cases of reinfection currently.