According to a study from France, a coronavirus variant from South Africa was identified in the event of renewed infection
The news comes as reports of the variant, named B. 1,351, escalated worldwide, including 13 cases in five states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given the increased prevalence of the mutation, scientists have raised concerns that the variant and two others, first identified in the UK and Brazil, could become a predominant source of infection and could elude coronavirus vaccines developed before the variants were detected.
Maryland-based biotech company Novavax said that “data suggests previous infection with COVID-19 may not fully protect against subsequent infection from the South African escape variant,” but its vaccine “provides significant protection.”
Despite fears that the variants could prolong herd immunity efforts, experts have warned that such reports of reinfection cases like the one in France are not common, suggesting that immunity is possible for many. Studies have shown that the body’s virus-fighting cells are able to remember the causative agent of a previous illness and attack, either by killing the infection or by fighting off more severe symptoms.
“What I’m most concerned about is that some of these premature conclusions may deprive people of hope,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University, told the Washington Post earlier. “I worry the message you are getting is that we will never get rid of this. In fact, that’s not what the data suggests. “
Given the limited monitoring of variants, it is difficult to assess how frequently reinfection can occur or to confirm the French researchers’ claim that the case is the first of its kind.
On Friday, the World Health Organization warned it had received preliminary reports from South Africa of people being re-infected with a new variant of the virus. At a press conference, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan did not go into these cases, but said checking reinfections is one of the “areas of active research”.
Swaminathan added that clinical vaccine studies have shown promising results, stressing that vaccination can protect against serious illness and death.
Swaminathan made no mention of the case in France.
French researchers wrote that the man had a mild fever and difficulty breathing when he was first infected. After recovering, the man tested negative twice in December. They wrote that the interval between infections ruled out virus shedding that caused a second positive test.
The researchers are not sure which variant of the virus the man was previously infected with. When he was hospitalized, the sequencing of the viral genome identified the three mutations representative of variant B. 1,351 in the spike region.
Seven days after his hospital stay, the man was intubated and ventilated, the doctors wrote.
There is no evidence that the variant discovered in South Africa is more deadly.
On the other hand, the variant identified in the UK is “likely” associated with an increased risk of hospitalization and death, wrote British government scientists in an article published on Friday. British officials had previously stated that the variant “may be associated with a higher degree of mortality”.
The unknowns about the variants – and the possibility the virus may continue to mutate – have alerted officials advising people to keep distancing themselves in order to limit the spread of the contagious variant.
More cases of the mutation have been identified in the United States, Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s most senior infectious disease doctor, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, which means the variant could become a major source of infection in the country.
“When it becomes dominant, the experience of our colleagues in South Africa shows that even if you were infected with the original virus, there is a very high rate of reinfection to the point where previous infection doesn’t seem to protect you from reinfection,” said he. “That gets to the point where we’ve been saying over and over that vaccinations are very important.”