Daily Management Review

Repeat COVID Infection Poses Greater Risk Than Initial Infection, According To A Study


Repeat COVID Infection Poses Greater Risk Than Initial Infection, According To A Study
Regardless of vaccination status, a study released recently suggests that the risk of death, hospitalization, and serious health issues from COVID-19 increases significantly with reinfection compared to a first bout with the virus.
Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis stated that COVID-19 re-infection increases the risk of both acute outcomes and long COVID. This was visible in boosted, vaccinated, and unboosted individuals.
The results were derived from data gathered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on 443,588 patients with one SARS-CoV-2 infection, 40,947 patients with two or more infections, and 5.3 million uninfected people between March 1, 2020, and April 6, 2022. The majority of study participants were men.
Compared to patients who had COVID infection only once, patients who had it again had a risk of hospitalization and death that was more than twice as high. According to a study published in Nature Medicine, they also had increased risks for neurological disorders, problems with the lungs, heart, blood, kidneys, and diabetes, as well as for issues with the bones and muscles, the brain, and the heart.
"Even if one had prior infection and was vaccinated - meaning they had double immunity from prior infection plus vaccines - they are still susceptible to adverse outcomes upon reinfection," Al-Aly, the study leader, said.
Repeat infections increased the risk of developing lung issues by more than three times, heart problems by three times, and neurological disorders by 60% compared to patients who had only experienced one infection. The higher risks were most noticeable in the first month following reinfection but persisted six months later, according to the researchers.
The VA population, according to experts who were not involved in the study, does not represent the general population.
According to John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, patients at VA medical facilities are typically older, sicker, and frequently male, a group who would typically have more than usual health complications.
Even after taking into account variations in COVID-19 strains like Delta, Omicron, and BA, the researchers claimed that cumulative risks and burdens of repeat infection increased with the number of infections.5.
However, there appeared to be a "plateauing effect with multiple infections," with less of a jump in risk following the second infection, according to Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease epidemiologist and an editor-at-large at Kaiser Health News.
"The good news there is that the better people are protected with immunity, likely the risk of developing some of the complications will be lower over time," she added.
Al-Aly nevertheless urged people to maintain vigilance.
"We had started seeing a lot of patients coming to the clinic with an air of invincibility," he told Reuters. "They wondered, 'Does getting a reinfection really matter?' The answer is yes, it absolutely does."
People "should be aware that reinfection is consequential and should take precautions" ahead of the quickly approaching holiday season with travel and indoor gatherings, he added.