Since the COVID-19 pandemic began almost three years ago, scientists have learned that an initial infection can lead to short- and long-term health risks affecting nearly every organ system in the body. They’ve also determined that people can get COVID-19 a second or a third time, despite acquiring natural antibodies after the first infection and receiving vaccination and booster shots.
Now, a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care system shows the health consequences of reinfection. The researchers found that repeat SARS-CoV-2 infections contribute significant additional risk of adverse health conditions in multiple organ systems.
Such outcomes include hospitalization; disorders affecting the lungs, heart, brain, and the body’s blood, musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal systems; and even death. Reinfection also contributes to diabetes, kidney disease and mental health issues.
The findings are published Nov. 10 in Nature Medicine.
“During the past few months, there’s been an air of invincibility among people who have had COVID-19 or their vaccinations and boosters, and especially among people who have had an infection and also received vaccines; some people started to referring to these individuals as having a sort of superimmunity to the virus,” said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a clinical epidemiologist at the School of Medicine. “Without ambiguity, our research showed that getting an infection a second, third or fourth time contributes to additional health risks in the acute phase, meaning the first 30 days after infection, and in the months beyond, meaning the long COVID phase.”
Additionally, the study indicated that the risk seems to increase with each infection. “This means that even if you’ve had two COVID-19 infections, it’s better to avoid a third,” Al-Aly said. “And if you’ve had three infections, it’s best to avoid the fourth.”