Patients recovering from coronavirus infections can lose their immunity to reinfection in a matter of months, according to research released Monday that experts say could have a “significant” influence on how governments manage the pandemic.
In the first such study, a team led by researchers from King’s College London examined the levels of antibodies in more than 90 virus-infected patients and how they changed over time.
Blood tests have shown that even individuals with only mild COVID-19 symptoms have mounted an immune response to the virus.
In the study group, 60 percent showed a “potent” viral response within the first few weeks after infection.
However, after three months, only 16.7% had maintained high levels of COVID-19 neutralizing antibodies, and after 90 days, several patients had no detectable antibodies in their bloodstream.
When the body encounters an external danger such as a virus, it mobilizes the cells to track down and kill the culprit.
In doing so, it produces proteins called antibodies that are programmed to target the specific antigen that the body is fighting, like a cut key for a particular lock.
As long as someone has enough antibodies, they can repel new infections, giving them immunity.
But Monday’s research suggests that immunity cannot be taken for granted and cannot last more than a few months, as is the case with other viruses such as the flu.
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Experts said the results could change the way governments plan for the next phase of the pandemic, including the way they fund and organize vaccine research and development.
“This is an important study that is beginning to define the longer term dynamics of the antibody response to SARS-CoV-2,” said Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, using the full name of the virus strain.
“It also highlights the need for us to better understand what a protective immune response looks like if we are to develop an effective vaccine,” said Young, who was not involved in the research.
James Gill, Honorary Clinical Professor at Warwick Medical School, said the research has reiterated the need for everyone to continue to take steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, especially at the start of the holiday season in Europe .
“In the same way that these patients were surprised to have anti-COVID19 antibodies, we should NOT be surprised if the protective benefit is slight, or at least transient,” he said.
“If you were playing the lottery and winning 10, you would not immediately think that you had acquired an increased natural chance and used your savings to buy other lottery tickets.
“Even those who have a positive antibody test – especially those who cannot explain where they may have been exposed – should continue to exercise caution, social distancing and use an appropriate mask.”
(With the exception of the title, this story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)