People with diabetes are more aware than most of the terrible toll COVID-19 can take — since both type 1 and type 2 are linked to higher risks of hospitalization, admission to the intensive care unit (ICU), and death from the viral infection. But one small comfort has been that if you recovered form COVID-19, you were thought to have some amount of lasting immunity to reinfection from the virus.
As scientists have long feared would happen, it appears that a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has developed that can reinfect people who previously had the infection, as noted in a recent Reuters article. Known as P.1, the virus variant emerged and spread in the Brazilian Amazon jungle city of Manaus before spreading to at least 20 counties around the world.
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In a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed or published, researchers at Brazil’s University of Sao Pãolo and Britain’s University of Oxford found that out of 100 people in Manaus who has previously recovered from COVID-19, between 25 and 61 were susceptible to reinfection with the P.1 variant. That’s because this variant of the virus has a “unique constellation of mutations” that help it evade the body’s immune system, even if the immune system has been primed to attack the “spike proteins” that are found on the outside of the virus. As a result, they estimate that P.1 is between 1.4 and 2.2 times as easily spread as the original form of the virus that has caused the current pandemic.
The good news, though, is that the current COVID-19 vaccines may offer at least some protection against the P.1 variant of the virus, even if the virus manages to take hold in your body. Speaking at a news conference, one of the researchers noted that “there’s no […] evidence really to suggest at this point that the current vaccines won’t work against P.1,” and predicted that the current vaccines “will at least protect us against disease, and possibly also against infection.”
The researchers found that although the P.1 variant was first identified in an infected person on December 6, 2020, it probably first emerged in early November. They found that it took eight weeks, on average, for P.1 to grow from causing 0% to 87% of COVID-19 infections in an affected population — meaning that once it takes hold in a community, it’s likely to become the dominant variant.
In addition to getting a COVID-19 vaccine if you’re eligible, it’s still important — possibly more so than ever before, given the rapid spread of new, ultra-contagious virus variants — to take basic precautions like distancing yourself from others, wearing a mask (or two) in enclosed or crowded public spaces, and washing your hands frequently to limit your risk of developing COVID-19.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.