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Re-infection with COVID-19: can you get the coronavirus more than once? What we know so far


You don’t know if a second appearance of symptoms is due to a new infection or an old one, unless you’ve been tested multiple times.

Amanda Capritto / CNET

Visit the WHO website for the most current news and information about the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic experts grapple with whether a patient recovering from COVID-19 the disease can catch up again. While coronavirus re-infections are rare, there are several documented instances where it appears to have occurred. Scientists are particularly interested in these cases because they can teach us a lot about them how the coronavirus makes people sick, and how vaccines could help end the pandemic.

There are also other considerations. For example, if you’ve recovered from COVID-19, do you still need to wear a mask when you go out in public? Would you get a vaccine when one becomes available or don’t you need one now?

Like many questions about the coronavirus, there is still a lot we don’t know. That’s why experts almost always recommend an abundance of caution when making decisions that could affect your health or the well-being of others.

Here we’ll show you what doctors know and, just as importantly, what they don’t know about COVID-19 reinfection, including what to watch out for and the steps you can take to protect yourself. This article is intended as a general overview and not a source of medical advice. If you think you have COVID-19, here’s how to find a testing site near you.


Patients are checked in outside the facility for their doctor’s appointment and are not allowed in until they receive a text message that the doctor is ready to see them. Free N95 masks were given to those who were about to enter.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Is reinfection with COVID-19 something I should be concerned about?

In most confirmed cases of reinfection, the patient first tested positive SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, and then was tested negative at one point before turning positive a second time. Although several dozen cases have been reported, they represent a very small percentage of the more than 45 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In other words, while reinfection can occur in very limited circumstances, it is uncommon. “Real-life experience suggests that re-infections are very rare, but it would be interesting to see if the virus is seasonal with waning immunity next year,” Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu, an infectious disease specialist from Yale Medicine, at Heathline.

Translation: It’s really not something you need to worry about right now.


Recovery from COVID-19 may require bed rest.

Angela Lang / CNET

How do I know if I am infected again or if COVID has never disappeared?

Some people who feel sick for weeks or even months after testing positive for COVID-19 may still experience symptoms as a result of the initial infection, also known as ‘lung haulers’.

In other cases, doctors have performed genetic analyzes on samples of the virus taken from patients at the first infection and then again during the second infection. In cases where those samples showed genetically significant differences, scientists concluded that they were separate, unrelated infections.

Unless you are getting extensive testing, you are probably not sure whether a repeat of COVID-19 is a bona fide reinfection or an example of a long-term coronavirus infection.


In the waiting room of the doctor’s office, there is a sign on every chair asking patients not to sit down.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Are You Better or Worse the Second Time You Get COVID-19?

Again, you will need COVID test results to determine if your symptoms are related to your initial infection or if they are new.

With most viruses, a second infection is usually milder than the first because the body has built up antibodies against it. However, that’s not always the case, and there’s still a lot about SARS-CoV-2 doctors continuing to disclose. With some viruses, having antibodies against the virus can actually make a second infection worse. Dengue fever and the Zika virus are well-known examples.

For most patients who have had COVID-19 more than once, symptoms were generally mild or absent with a second attack with the virus. But some patients’ second illness was even worse compared to their first infection. It is too early to know for sure which response is more typical, and there are too few cases to study.


It’s hard to say whether COVID-19 symptoms like a dry cough and loss of taste and smell get worse or better with a second infection.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Am I immune to COVID-19 if I have already had it?

The immune system is a complex network of organs, tissues and cells that work together to protect the body against disease. It does not have an on / off switch. Rather, there are different degrees of immunity that a person can have against a particular pathogen or germ.

Doctors and scientists have so far made no firm claims about lasting immunity to COVID-19. Epidemiologists say re-infection is unlikely for the first three months after a positive test for the virus.

How does COVID-19 reinfection affect a possible vaccine?

We will only really know one or more vaccines are approved and widely distributed, but doctors hope that coronavirus vaccines will at least give people enough immunity to resume normal life once enough people have been vaccinated. That’s because in the vast majority of cases, COVID-19 patients didn’t seem to contract the virus for the second time so far, giving scientists some hope that a vaccine will work.

In fact, cases of coronavirus reinfection can help researchers better understand how best to distribute and administer a vaccine. For example, you may need to give people regular booster shots, which boost immunity, until the virus is completely under control.


Signage seen at Whole Foods in Asheville, North Carolina explains they now require masks to wear indoors, and they will provide one for customers if needed.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Should I still wear a mask or socialize if I’ve had COVID-19?

Every public health organization, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, recommends the same set of safety precautions for everyone, regardless of whether they have had COVID-19 in the past or not. (The only exceptions are for cases of active infections, which require even stricter protocols.) That means masks, social distancing, washing hands, regular surface cleaning – everything experts have told us to do since the start of the pandemic.

For specific details on that and more, here’s how to clean your home and car, where you can buy the most popular face masks and how to enjoy a restaurant meal more safely during the pandemic.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.

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