New Delhi: Telangana Tuesday reported two cases of Covid-19 reinfection among medical professionals, with a gap of around two months between the infections. The cases have been reported at a time when a lab-confirmed reinfection in Hong Kong (with a gap of four and a half months between the two infections) has raised concerns that immunity to the novel coronavirus can be short-lived, putting the future of Covid-19 vaccines in doubt.
The Telangana reinfections were diagnosed in capital Hyderabad, and the patients were initially completely asymptomatic, said Director of Public Health Dr G. Srinivasa Rao. He added that the patients had undergone RT-PCR tests on both occasions, and experts are now trying to figure out if they were exposed to two different strains of the novel coronavirus.
Health Minister Eatala Rajender, who confirmed the reinfections to ThePrint, told a Telugu news channel: “The virus is new and we are learning about it daily. There is no guarantee that coronavirus will not come again in those who were infected before. Those who are not developing antibodies in enough amounts might get infected again. Courage is the main drug for battling the pandemic.”
The health minister’s office told ThePrint Wednesday that the details of both cases had been shared with the Indian Council of Medical Research to assess the causes, even as both patients have been put in home isolation.
Earlier, doctors at a private hospital in Ahmedabad claimed Tuesday that a 54-year-old woman who had tested negative after a bout of Covid-19 in April tested positive once again through an RT-PCR test Sunday. The Gujarat government has not confirmed this case.
In July, a policeman on duty in Delhi had also tested positive a second time.
‘Stray examples’ but experts apprehensive
At a press briefing Tuesday, before Telangana confirmed the reinfections, ICMR Director-General Balram Bhargava said the Hong Kong case was a “stray example”, and could depend on various factors.
“We have read with interest the reports of reinfection in one case in Hong Kong. We are learning more and more about the disease as we go ahead. It can depend on several factors. One can be related to the patient — how is his immunity, how was his immune status, was it compromised… It can also depend upon the virus, whether the virus has mutated or turned virulent,” he said.
Bhargava also gave the example of measles, and said once it infects someone, that person has lifelong immunity, adding that it’s a rare occurrence for the same person to get measles a second time.
But other experts remain apprehensive. Giridhar Babu of the Public Health Foundation of India, who is part of ICMR’s research task force on epidemiology and surveillance, said establishing the evidence of reinfection of the Covid-19 virus is very difficult.
“Based on available evidence, it is too early to infer if different strains are infecting Indians. In order to prove it, we need evidence of the culture-positive live virus in a BSL-3 level laboratory,” Babu told ThePrint.
He also elaborated that it is difficult to distinguish a reinfection from chronic post-viral symptoms of Covid-19 and other viral infections.
Former Union health secretary K. Sujatha Rao said while it might be too early to analyse, it is important for Covid patients to not take the pandemic lightly after recovery.
“We need more evidence since although we are seeing cases even in India after South Korea and Hong Kong, this virus is complex to understand,” Sujatha Rao told ThePrint, adding that discomfort in lungs and other effects continue even after a Covid-19 patient recovers.
“This is why I keep emphasising that we can’t afford to fudge data. We need to draw conclusions accurately,” she said.
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