'It's Not Good News': Coronavirus Reinfections Have Now Been Recorded in Three Countries

Two more cases of COVID-19 reinfection have been reported after Hong Kong officials said a man had contracted the virus for a second time.

Marc Van Ranst, a Belgium virologist who is director of the country's national coronavirus and rotavirus laboratories, told broadcaster NOS "it is not good news." The Belgium case involved a woman who became infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, three months after her initial diagnosis.

Whether people can be reinfected with the virus has been debated since the pandemic began at the end of last year. A number of people are thought to have had the virus twice, but in order to officially confirm this, laboratory tests need to show the person was infected with a slightly altered version of it. Without doing this, it is unclear whether a person's secondary infection was the result of reinfection, or whether it was the initial virus re-emerging.

Van Ranst said there was enough genetic evidence to show the woman had been infected for a second time. "There are indeed enough differences to be able to speak of a different strain, a second infection," he told the program Terzake.

He said the patient only had mild complications, adding there are two more cases of possible reinfection now being investigated.

"It is not good news," he said. "You hope you are out of harm's way. Hopefully that is the case in most cases. The antibodies from the first time do not help enough to prevent the second infection."

The case comes as Van Ranst said Brussels is experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases. He said it is one of the top 10 regions in Europe with the fastest-growing number of new cases.

"The politicians of the Brussels-Capital Region should consider how they can either better enforce or tighten up the corona measures," he tweeted.

In the Netherlands, Marion Koopmans, a virologist who is Head of the Erasmus MC Department of Viroscience, said an elderly patient had also been reinfected with the virus.

"SARS-CoV-2 infections all have a different fingerprint, a genetic code," she told NOS. Koopmans said the case does not make her "nervous," but said "we need to see if it [reinfection] occurs more often."

She said patients becoming reinfected was in line with expectations.

"Respiratory infections can strike twice, or more often. We know that you are not protected for life if you have had the infection and that is what we expect with Covid. Just because you've built up antibodies doesn't mean you're immune."

The reinfection cases follow a statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said people can test positive for COVID-19 for three months after diagnosis. The agency's announcement followed news reports that suggested the CDC had said people were immune from the disease for three months after infection.

"The latest data simply suggests that retesting someone in the three months following initial infection is not necessary unless that person is exhibiting the symptoms of COVID-19 and the symptoms cannot be associated with another illness."

The first official reinfection case in Hong Kong was a man in his 30s who tested positive for the virus after visiting Spain, four and a half months after first getting COVID-19.

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Stock image representing coronavirus. Cases of reinfection have been confirmed in Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Belgium. iStock