People who develop COVID-19 for a second time tend to have fewer severe complications compared with a first infection, according to a recent study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases — but second infections still carry a risk of severe disease and death.
Since near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been known that people with diabetes are at increased risk for severe disease if they develop COVID-19 — especially if they have high blood glucose levels or other conditions known to affect COVD-19 outcomes like respiratory problems or obesity. More recently, it has come to light that people who survive COVID-19 are much more likely to develop diabetes in the months following their illness. People who have recovered from COVID-19 may experience lasting health problems, including depression, even if their disease wasn’t severe enough to warrant hospital treatment. But for most of the pandemic, COVID-19 survivors could at least take comfort in knowing they were unlikely to develop the viral infection a second time.
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Outcome related to second episode of COVID-19
The latest study confirms the low risk of COVID-19 reinfection, and also shows that a second bout of COVID-19 is unlikely to be as severe as the first — but with some notable exceptions. The researchers looked at data from 9,119 people who developed COVID-19 and took more than one test for the infection at 62 different healthcare facilities in the United States through November 13, 2020. COVID-19 reinfection was defined as having two positive tests greater than 90 days apart, or a second positive test after the first infection was confirmed as resolved by two or more negative tests. The researchers were interested in looking at outcomes related to a second episode of COVID-19, as well as factors that were linked to a higher risk of reinfection.
Overall, the risk of COVID-19 reinfection within the group was 0.7% during the study period. Among those who developed COVID-19 a second time, the average duration between two positive tests was 116 days. People with asthma were 90% more likely to have COVID-19 reinfection than those without asthma, and people who used tobacco or other nicotine products were 170% more likely to experience reinfection.
During a second episode of COVID-19, people in the study were significantly less likely to develop complications like pneumonia, heart failure, or acute kidney injury than was seen overall in first-time COVID-19 infections. But the risk of death linked to COVID-19 reinfection wasn’t trivial, since out of 63 people who developed COVID-19 a second time, two of them died — a mortality rate of 3.2%.
As described in a Healio article on the study, the researchers noted that the rate of COVID-19 reinfection they found was similar to what other studies in countries around the world have found. They also noted that the small but real risk of severe disease and death linked to reinfection means that people who survive COVID-19 should follow general guidelines on protecting themselves from the virus, including getting a COVID-19 vaccine when possible.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.