Will Coronavirus Exposure Mean Lasting Immunity?

TUESDAY, April 14, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Once you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, are you now immune from the virus?

That’s the critical question that will help shape how the United States re-opens for business in the coming months.

Unfortunately, there’s still no clear answer.

It’s still too soon to tell if the first wave of COVID-19 survivors will remain immune to the virus for any appreciable length of time.

But the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, thinks there’s a good chance that people might gain lasting immunity following COVID-19 infection.

“We’re making an assumption, which I think is a reasonable assumption, that this virus is not changing very much,” said Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “If we get infected in February and March, and recover, next September or October the person who was infected I believe is going to be protected. We don’t know 100% for sure, but I think that is a reasonable assumption.”

But there’s also reason to question the potential for lasting immunity against COVID-19, said Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn.

Immunity may vary

The novel coronavirus behind COVID-19 belongs to a family of viruses that has a very uneven track record with the human immune system, Poland noted.

“With the four seasonal beta coronaviruses that circulate and cause all the upper respiratory infections you see in your practice, those people lose immunity in months to a year or two,” Poland said. That’s why people fall prey to the common cold again and again.

This happens because the body uses a relatively simple strategy to fight off common cold coronaviruses, and this strategy does not appear to make a lasting impression on immune system memory, Poland explained.

Still, there’s a little reason for hope. The more threatening coronavirus diseases, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), appear to produce immunity that potentially lasts longer, but the data is limited because both viruses have infected much fewer people than the COVID-19 pathogen, experts said.

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