Long COVID Risk Makes It Worth Avoiding Second Infections
Dec. 19, 2022 — Alexander Truong, MD, has been seeing long COVID patients for more than 2 years but thought the numbers would have significantly dwindled by now.
“We are definitely seeing a lot of patients who, when they get reinfected, have worsening post-COVID issues. That’s very true and ...
...I think that’s a big signal,” says Truong, a pulmonologist and an assistant professor at Emory University’s School of Medicine.
COVID-19 is definitely not over, says Angela Cheung, MD, PhD, a senior physician scientist with the University Health Network and a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
And each time someone gets infected, they risk developing long COVID. A prior infection does not erase the risk, Cheung says.
“It makes sense that repeat infections would not be beneficial to a person’s health. But I think it’s really hard to know what the additional risk of each subsequent infection would be because ...
...there are all sorts of other things in the mix,” says Michael Peluso, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and an infectious diseases doctor at the University of California San Francisco.
“There are vaccines — new vaccines, old vaccines. There are variants — old variants, new variants, and now multiple variants ...
...circulating at the same time.” Notably, the study found that these elevated risks remained even 6 months after reinfection.
The study did not directly compare a first infection to reinfection within the same pool of patients. It only compared ...
...one group of individuals who had a single infection to a separate group who had more than one infection.
There could be other factors that made one group more susceptible to reinfection and at greater risk of adverse health outcomes. Another limitation is the VA population itself.
“I wouldn’t get into the weeds. The big message and big picture is that reinfections are bad.”
“There are not any definitive answers. … It’s very, very difficult to disentangle the emergence of new variants from the uptake of vaccines,” says Peluso.
“It does seem like overall there may be less long COVID with the newer variants, but it’s very hard to say whether that is a characteristic of the virus or a characteristic of the fact that most ...
...people who are getting the virus have either been vaccinated or previously infected to have some different immune baseline from somebody who’s seeing the viral antigen for the first time.”
“We also know that in patients who’ve had their vaccinations, they are less likely to have a reinfection, or when they do have reinfection, they’re less likely to have severe infection,” says Truong.
“That’s the one big signal that we have and that’s why I’m trying to wave the flag as much as I can about getting vaccinated [and boosted].”
“One study looking at Omicron versus Delta shows about half the risk, but half the risk in a lot more people is still a lot of high absolute numbers,” Cheung says, referring to a June paper published in The Lancet.
“On my post-COVID clinic days, I’m still seeing four to eight new patients who had infections in 2022 come in with significant symptoms,” says Truong.
“The best way for someone to protect themselves against that is to avoid getting COVID in the first place,” says Peluso.
“It’s possible that this may become less common over time. I hope that’s true,” Peluso says.
“It’s also possible that it might go the other way. And so for that reason, I’m trying to avoid all of the variants.”