Researchers in South Korea say that it appears that people can’t get reinfected with the novel coronavirus after all. Reports that some patients were reinfected with COVID-19 after recovering from the disease may have been the cause of faulty testing, a new report indicates.
As The Sun reports, South Korea’s central clinical committee for emerging disease states that previous tests showing people were once again positive for the disease were the results of the virus lingering in their bodies. These viruses were fragmented, which means that they didn’t have the ability to make the individual or those around them sick.
A total of 277 people had tested positive a second time for the disease. This raised concerns that individuals wouldn’t gain immunity after being infected with the virus, something that could delay the re-opening of economies around the world.
But the new study says that the testing used in those cases was unable to tell the difference between the live virus and traces of the virus that can linger after someone has recovered.
While the question of how long immunity lasts and what kind of immunity is achieved is still up in the air, this latest study lends evidence to the idea that people can’t get sick twice with the disease.
“RNA fragments still can exist in a cell even if the virus is inactivated,” researchers said. “It is more likely that those who tested positive again picked up virus RNA that has already been inactivated.”
These findings line up with those of the Korea Centers for Disease Control, which recently found that these apparently reinfected patients weren’t infectious.
“The respiratory epithelial cell has a half-life of up to three months, and RNA virus in the cell can be detected with PCR testing one to two months after the elimination of the cell,” one doctor said.
The news is positive for those hoping to implement some sort of “passport” system that would allow those with coronavirus antibodies to head back to their jobs or in public, based on the assumption that they can’t get sick with the disease.
Scientists aren’t sure how long people can remain immune, however. The WHO recently said that there’s no solid evidence that people gain immunity after infection.
Places like China have begun using a color-coded system that allows people to travel within the country based on their infection status. Those who are immune may move freely, while those who were recently exposed or are sick must remain in self-quarantine.
The U.S. may consider a similar system, as Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said.