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COVID-19 reinfection rare, but more common in older people, study finds

epa08336859 An elderly couple wearing face masks walk outside St Thomas' Hospital, Central London, Britain, 01 April 2020. According to news reports the NHS is anticipating a COVID-19 'tsunami' as the peak of infection rates nears. Countries around the world are taking increased measures to stem the widespread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 disease. (Photo: EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER)

LONDON, March 17 (Reuters) - The majority of people who have had COVID-19 are protected from getting it again for at least six months, a study published on Wednesday showed, but older people are more prone to reinfection than younger people.

By Alistair Smout

The study, appearing in the Lancet medical journal, found that just 0.65% of patients tested positive a second time for COVID-19 after previously being infected during Denmark’s first and second waves. That was much lower than the 3.27% who were positive for the virus using highly accurate PCR tests after initially being negative.

However, the study found that people over the age of 65 had only 47% protection against repeat infection, compared to 80% protection for younger people.

“Our study confirms what a number of others appeared to suggest: reinfection with COVID-19 is rare in younger, healthy people, but the elderly are at greater risk of catching it again,” said Steen Ethelberg of Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut.

“Since older people are also more likely to experience severe disease symptoms, and sadly die, our findings make clear how important it is to implement policies to protect the elderly during the pandemic.”

The authors of the study found no evidence that protection against reinfection declined over a six month follow-up period, but said further studies were needed to assess protection against reinfection from variants of the coronavirus.

The data analysed was collected through Denmark’s national testing strategy, under which 69% of the population, or 4 million people, were tested over the course of 2020.

Commenting on the results, Imperial College London professors Rosemary Boyton and Danny Altmann, said the results showed lower protection and were “more concerning” than previous studies.

“These data are all confirmation, if it were needed, that for SARS-CoV-2 the hope of protective immunity through natural infections might not be within our reach and a global vaccination programme with high efficacy vaccines is the enduring solution,” they said in a linked comment piece also published in the Lancet.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]

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