Do those who survive the coronavirus infection become immune to the virus? Scientists and researcers are now scrambling to find out the answer as more than 450,000 people have been infected with the disease worldwide with 21,577 deaths.
The answer is of course a qualified yes. As 115,798 people who contracted the deadly virus have recovered so far, the experts are trying to figure out if those who have recovered have become immune from the virus and could venture out from their homes and help shore up the work force until a vaccine becomes available. In particular, health care workers who are known to be immune could continue to care for the sick.
According to experts, immunity may bring an early treatment to coronavirus as antibodies gathered from the bodies of those who have recovered may be used to help those struggling with the diseasae.
The Food and Drug Administration of the US recently approved the use of plasma from recovered patients to treat some serious cases. New York governor Andrew M Cuomo has announced that New York would become the first state to begin testing serum from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat those who are seriously ill, according to a report.
“It’s a trial for people who are in serious condition, but the New York State Department of Health has been working on this with some of New York’s best health care agencies, and we think it shows promise,” Cuomo was quoted as saying by The New York Times.
Immunoglobulin M is human body’s first line of defence against an infectious virus. The job of this antibody is to remain vigilant round the clock and alert the rest of the immune system to viruses.
Once a body gets infected, the immune system refines this antibody into a second type, called immunoglobulin G, meant to neutralize a virus. The antibody may take a week for the refinement.
The antibodies generated while tackling polio or measles infections bestow an immunity for a lifetime. But antibodies to the coronavirus that cause the common cold persist for one to three years.
Those who got infected with SARS, one of the coronaviruses, had long-term immunity lasting about 8 to 10 years, said Vineet D. Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, adding that those who recovered from MERS, another coronavirus, saw much shorter-term protection. People who contracted the new coronavirus could be immune to ony a year or two after which "we can’t predict,” Manachery further said.
Still, he added, even if antibody protection were short-lasting and people became reinfected, the second bout with the coronavirus would likely be much milder than the first, said Florian Krammer, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
The quickest way to assess immunity of a recovered patient is a simple blood test to make sure they have developed protective antibodies. But unlike China and Singapore, such tests are new in the western countries.
Florian Krammer, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and his colleagues developed one such antibody test that could
be conducted. The team validated the test in blood plasma taken from three coronavirus patients.
“No matter who makes them, as long as they’re reliable, that’s a super nice tool,” Dr. Krammer said, adding, as this is a new coronavirus, the test should deliver “basically, a yes or no answer."
The test can identify the people who got infected and now have developed immunity to coronavirus and might be able to lead a normal life. This could be useful for health care workers as once it is confirmed that they are immune to the virus, they can be deployed on the front lines of emergency care, sparing their colleagues who have not been exposed.