Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

Getting the Coronavirus Twice Is Highly Unlikely (in the Short Term)

Experts worry about what could happen if there’s no vaccine

Markham Heid
Published in
5 min readJun 4, 2020

Since the early days of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, South Korea’s thorough testing and monitoring practices have been the envy of public health agencies around the world. Much of what science now knows about the novel coronavirus is based on that country’s data.

Back in April, that data pointed to a frightening phenomenon: Some people who had recovered from Covid-19 seemed to be experiencing a second infection. According to reporting from NPR, South Korean public health officials had identified 163 people who tested positive for the virus following hospital discharge. Similar reports have since cropped up in China. These reports have led to speculation that people could be reinfected with the coronavirus or that it could somehow “reactivate” in a person’s body.

While doctors can’t yet eliminate either possibility, follow-up research suggests that a dangerous relapse or reinfection is unlikely — at least in the short term.

“Experience suggests that people who have been infected and recovered will be protected for some period and won’t be able to transmit virus to others, but there are no guarantees.”

A closer look

Two weeks ago, the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) — South Korea’s version of the CDC — published an analysis of people who tested positive for the virus a second time, which the agency referred to as “re-positive” cases. That analysis found no evidence that these people were contagious, meaning they did not seem to be experiencing a second SARS-CoV-2 infection.

This finding is consistent with data from the United States and elsewhere, which so far has not turned up evidence that a person recently infected with the coronavirus can be infected a second time. “As far as I know, there are no confirmed cases of anyone getting sick, then better, then sick again with a confirmed live virus,” says Lee Riley, MD, a…



Markham Heid

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.

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