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For the first time researchers have identified someone in the United States who has been reinfected with the novel coronavirus.
Although outside experts have not yet reviewed the study, it describes the experience of a 25-year-old man in Reno, Nevada, who tested positive for the virus in April and got sick again in late May. The patient then developed a more severe strain of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
"The study likely represents a clear example of reinfection...reinfections are possible—which we already knew because immunity is never 100%," said Kristian Anderson, professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California.
The report, published by researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, and the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, illustrates through sophisticated testing that the virus associated with the Reno man's infection showed genetically distinct strains.
The study emphasizes that while reinfection with the virus is rare, the finding implies that initial exposure to the infection does not guarantee full immunity for everybody.
While cases of presumed reinfections have arisen throughout the world, questions about testing accuracy have emerged. For example, just this week, researchers from the University of Hong Kong reported details of a 33-year-old man who had recovered from a severe strain of the virus in April but was reinfected four months later with a different strain of the virus.
"We don't know at what frequency reinfection occurs and how that might change over time," Anderson said. "Before we have broader studies illuminating these questions, we can't conclude what a single case of reinfection means for longevity and robustness of COVID-19 immunity and relevance for a future vaccine."