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Reinfection of government doctor from Chennai sparks concern

Scientists are closely monitoring such cases as they may indicate the degree of immunity a person has to the virus, after recovering from the disease.

Published: 08th September 2020 05:29 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th September 2020 11:31 AM   |  A+A-

A health worker arranges tubes containing swab samples in a tray for COVID-19 test at a medical camp Kasimedu fish market in Chennai

A health worker arranges tubes containing swab samples in a tray for COVID-19 test at a medical camp Kasimedu fish market in Chennai. (File photo | PTI)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: A 35-year-old government doctor in Chennai who had tested positive for Covid-19 in May and had recovered, has now been infected again, according to the woman’s husband. Although a few cases of suspected reinfection have been reported from across the world, the State Health Department said that it was yet to start studying the phenomenon. 

Scientists are closely monitoring such cases as they may indicate the degree of immunity a person has to the virus, after recovering from the disease.

The woman, a gynaecologist, was on duty when she was tested positive on May 28, said her husband, who is also a doctor. She was kept in isolation and treated for fever and myalgia (pain in a muscle) at the time, and had no signs of chest infection.

She was discharged after 14 days of treatment, after she tested negative for the infection.

“She rejoined duty in June and has been reporting to work regularly. About 10 days ago, she developed fever and myalgia again,” her husband said, adding that a CT scan had showed that the infection had affected nearly 20 per cent of her lung functioning.

An RT-PCR test was conducted which revealed that she had tested positive. The woman has been admitted for treatment at the Government Omandurar Medical College Hospital.

“I am now concerned about the possibility of her being infected for a third time,” said her husband. Express found that this was not an isolated instance. A private hospital doctor from Chennai revealed that a male nursing assistant at his hospital has also allegedly been reinfected.

“He had tested positive in May, and had recovered. Now, he has tested positive again and is in the ICU of the hospital,” the doctor said.

Meanwhile, a senior health department official said these cases might be less than one per cent of the total number of cases. 

“We haven’t started to document these cases yet. It will be done later,” he said. However, experts were of the opinion that such cases had to be taken seriously and studied more in detail. Dr K Kolandaswamy, former director of public health said, “Drawing parallels with something like dengue, where a person can get infected again because of different types of viruses, here the possibility of reinfection is very low.”

He pointed out that there were not a significant number of such cases being reported globally as well. In at least two cases -- in Hong Kong and Nevada, USA -- scientists have managed to compare the genomes of the virus. Variations in the genomes have strongly suggested that reinfection has occurred, although further research is needed.

Dr Prabhdeep Kaur, Deputy Director at National Institute of Epidemiology, ICMR said, “Many clinicians have been talking about reinfection cases. The problem is unless you do genetic sequencing of old samples and the current sample, we cannot confirm it. This means the samples should be available. We don’t know if the reinfection is due to different strains of the virus.” Kaur is also a member of the State government’s expert committee on Covid-19.

It may be recalled that data collected from the first plasma bank in the State had suggested that antibodies triggered by Covid are short-lived.



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