Can immunity be taken for granted for patients who have recovered from COVID-19, and if so for how long? An important study in the UK reveals that immunity may not last more than a few months, and the virus could reinfect people year after year, like common colds.
Patients may lose their immunity to reinfection within months, according to research released in the UK on Monday that experts say could have a “significant” impact on health systems around the world and influence on how governments manage the pandemic.
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The team of researchers from King’s College London came to these conclusions, after examining the levels of antibodies in more than 90 confirmed virus patients and how they changed over time.
The UK study, the first of its kind, found levels of antibodies that can destroy the virus peaked about three weeks after the onset of symptoms then swiftly declined.
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Of the study group, 60 per cent showed a "potent" viral response in the first few weeks after infection.
Three months later only 16.7 per cent had maintained high levels of COVID-19-neutralising antibodies, and after 90 days several patients had no detectable antibodies in their bloodstream.
The antibodies are produced when the body mobilizes cells to track down and kill the virus.
The antibodies are proteins known programmed to target the specific antigen the body is fighting. When a person has enough antibodies, they will be able to resist new infections, giving them immunity.
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“People are producing a reasonable antibody response to the virus, but it’s waning over a short period of time and depending on how high your peak is, that determines how long the antibodies are staying around,” said Dr Katie Doores, lead author on the study at King’s College London.
According to The Guardian, the study has implications for the development of a vaccine, and for the pursuit of “herd immunity” in the community over time.
The immune system has multiple ways to fight the coronavirus but if antibodies are the main line of defense, the findings suggested people could become reinfected in seasonal waves and that vaccines may not protect them for long.
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