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Coronavirus Immunity and Reinfection
Because many people who have COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms, antibody tests may be the best way to find out how far the new coronavirus has spread. These blood tests can show persons who are exposed to the virus and who hasn't.
The hope is that people who've been exposed to the new coronavirus will have immunity to it. When you have immunity, your body can recognize and fight off the virus that causes COVID-19.
But it's possible that people who've had COVID-19 can get sick again -- and maybe infect other people. We don't have enough information yet to know which is the case. But national health organizations are doing research to try to find some answers.
How Do We Become Immune?
When germs enter your body, your immune system springs into action.
Here's how it works:
Bacteria and viruses like the one that causes COVID-19 to have proteins called antigens on their surfaces. Each type of germ has its own unique antigen. White blood cells of your immune system make proteins called antibodies to fight the antigen. Antibodies attach to antigens the way a key fits into a lock, and they destroy the invading germ.
Exposed To A Virus
Once you've been exposed to a virus, your body makes memory cells. If you're exposed to that same virus again, these cells recognize it. They tell your immune system to make antibodies against it.
Vaccines work in much the same way. They expose your body to an antigen that trains your immune system to fight that germ in the future. Because vaccines contain weakened or killed versions of viruses, you become immune without getting sick.
If You've Had COVID-19, Are You Immune?
Some countries want to issue "immunity passports" for people who have antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19, called the SARS-CoV-2. People with these "passports." would be allowed to go back to work and travel because they're supposedly immune to the virus.
But health experts don't yet know whether we really do become immune to COVID-19 after we're infected. And if we do become immune, we don't know how long that might last.
What Is Herd Immunity And Are You Protected If You Have Antibodies?
8/16/2020 Coronavirus: What Is Herd Immunity And Are You Protected If You Have Antibodies? https://www.webmd.com/lung/coronavirus-immunity-reinfection?ecd=wnl_spr_070520&print=true 2/3
Other types of coronaviruses appear to cause some immunity. Studies show that people are protected against the coronaviruses that cause the common cold for up to a year after infection. And our bodies have antibodies against the SARS coronavirus for up to 4 years.
According To News Reports
In South Korea, more than 160 people tested positive again after they had recovered from COVID-19.
In China, 5%-10% of people tested positive again after they'd recovered, according to news reports.
It's not clear whether:
These people got infected again.
The virus reactivated in their bodies after being quiet for a while.
The test results were flawed
Researchers think the antibodies in convalescent plasma (the liquid part of the blood) from people who've recovered from COVID-19 might help people who are sick with the disease.
If you've had a positive antibody test and want to donate plasma, visit your local blood donation center, or check out the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project https://ccpp19.org/
Could Herd Immunity Protect Us?
Herd immunity happens when a large part of the population -- the herd -- is immune to a virus. This can happen either because these people got vaccinated or had already been infected.
Herd immunity makes it harder for a virus to spread. So even those who haven't been sick or vaccinated have some protection.
More People Need To Be Immune
The more contagious a virus is, the more people need to be immune to herd immunity to kick in. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is so contagious that experts estimate about 70% of people in a community will need to be immune to have herd protection.
That number might be hard to get to without a vaccine or a whole lot of people getting sick.
How Do We Test for Immunity?
Antibody tests, also called serology tests, measure antibodies to coronavirus in the blood. If you have antibodies, it means you've been exposed to the virus, and your immune system has made antibodies against it. Antibody tests are different from the tests doctors use to check for the virus itself.
Because COVID-19 is so new, there hasn't been much time for scientists to check the accuracy of antibody tests. They could have false-positive results.
That's when someone tests positive for antibodies but hasn't really developed them. Testing for antibodies too soon after an illness can also cause false results. It takes 5-10 days after you get infected to develop antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.